Aaron Gray // Greater Returns


Musings on Web Analytics, product strategy + other stuff.

What is the Role of Marketing, Anyway?

The role of Marketing is to engage the mind of the consumer such that a transaction with the brand becomes a possibility, no…a desirable possibility, in the consumer’s mind.

The goal, of course, is to create legions of willing consumers — those who we can turn into leads or sales. Generating leads and sales is a (necessary) side effect of successful marketing, not the point of marketing. To say that marketing’s role is simply to create leads fosters an overly tactical view of the relationship between your brand and your customer focused on the mechanics of generating leads and sales, rather than the psychology of creating the desire that makes leads possible. As marketers, we can’t be very successful, over the long run, at generating leads from consumers who don’t already desire to interact with us.

How do we create that desirable possibility? Establish and reinforce in the consumer’s mind unshakable truths about what makes our brand unique in the category – not what is the same or similar to other brands. This is where we “decide what business we’re in.” This is where we consciously decide that standing for specific perceptions in the mind of the consumer means that some people won’t be attracted to us, but others will be more attracted to us. This is where we decide not to be all things to all people.

It’s called branding, or positioning, and doing it right has more to do with our success as marketers than almost anything else. It has practical benefits in the organization, too. Good sales people know how to position a solution or product, prospect by prospect, but that approach isn’t scalable. If we haven’t established who we are and what business we’re in, each lead comes with its own perceptions and assumptions, meaning your sales organization either has to scramble to “be who the prospect thinks we are”, which is a time- and thought-intensive process (being all things to all people is always exhausting and inefficient), or the sales team has to work to establish the right truths in the prospects mind, hoping the prospect follows them through the process and still desires to transact with you in the end.

What does this have to do with web analytics. Well, nothing, directly. But this is the big picture.
Often, as practitioners of a discipline focused on response and conversion rate and the tactical optimization of layouts and offers, we lose sight of the bigger picture in which we work. At the end of the day, our job is to help maintain a well positioned brand that consumers already desire to transact with. A weak brand won’t do very well, no matter how much you optimize your offers and layouts.

If you’re interested in more on branding and positioning, checkout Laura Ries’s blog, The Origin of Brands.

UPDATE 6/12: I was just reading this again and realized that I didn’t draw the connection between the idea of building desire to interact in the mind of the prospect with the current hubbub about word of mouth (WOM) marketing. That is, if you accept the posit that advertising doesn’t build brands, PR does (as I do) then suddenly WOM is critical. PR is nothing more than a way to seed WOM, on a large scale. As people read or hear in the media about about a new product (in a new category), word begins to spread person to person – and WOM takes over. PR just fans the flames.

There’s an interesting thread on this related to designing for social media over at Bokardo: http://bokardo.com/archives/how-to-design-for-word-of-mouth/. What I find interesting is that the WOM people are seeing one small piece of the puzzle (the power of WOM)…but not necessarily seeing the bigger picture of why certain products or services make it into the mind and others do not. And the question is…does design really matter? That is , does design impact the ability of a product or service to become a category leader as much as we’d like to think it does, or does it just please the niche who cares about great design (and I count myself in that niche). It’s that niche that buys Macintosh and aspire to be Steve Jobs (I have great admiration for Steve Jobs, although I gave up my Mac several years ago), but they haven’t made Apple the personal computer category leader. Though it is undeniably a better product. Food for thought.

Filed under: Marketing, Positioning