Does anyone realize how diluted the word “marketing” has become? It’s now a catch-all phrase that can take on so many nuances that I now frequently find myself asking for clarification when people talk about “needing marketing.” When I ask for this kind of clarification, I also feel l’m the exception because most people just take for granted that marketing just means something that’s going to help drive your sales. Yes, the primary objective of marketing activities is to drive sales, but I’ll say it here: You’re a fool if you think that alone equals “marketing.”
You see, My Friends, true marketing is not doing activities that merely meet and fill demand. We can call that order taking. Instead, true marketing finds the cross section of market demand and your product and creates the desire in customers to buy it. Practically any dummy can do the order taking kind of marketing; it takes more effort, however, to do true marketing.
What makes the difference
Let’s work with some everyday life examples that most people can relate to. The first: going out to eat at a restaurant. You go in, you sit down, you begin looking at the menu and start thinking about what you want to order, and your server comes over. Now, the order taking server will ask, “So, have you decided what you want to order?” at which point you and the others at the table merely tell the server what you want and your order gets placed. On the other hand, the marketing server will say, “Let me tell you about today’s specials and some of my favorite items on the menu,” at which point she proceeds to describe these items in such delicious detail that your mouth starts salivating even before any words have come out of your mouth to place your order. You can bet, too, that this server has just bumped up her tab by several dollars or more, which not only helps the restaurant but also her tip. Somehow your ordinary tuna salad sandwich turned into a bacon, avocado, and smoked ham melt with an aioli spread on fresh, house-baked grilled Texas Toast.
Here’s another example: selling a house. Unless you want to sell your own on your own, you’re going to need hire a real estate agent. This person will make a big deal about all the “marketing” she’s going to do, helping you ready your house for its listing, listing the house, and holding open houses. Is this true marketing? The listing of a house on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a sort of monopoly. There’s really only one MLS serving the entire nation, and this MLS feeds other tools that also show these listings. So if you want your house seen, you have to have it listed on the MLS. People who are looking to buy houses put in a search query, and if you’re lucky, your house comes up and they express an interest in seeing it. Is that true marketing? Having an open house takes a little more effort, but how is the word getting out about that open house? Posting signs on the side of the road leaves a whole lot up to chance, doesn’t it?
A real estate agent who truly wants to market your property will go above and beyond these typical activities. They will consider whatever unique selling propositions (USPs) or qualities your house has and the type of buyer who would likely be interested in them, and then figure out specifically how to reach that particular buyer. Does your property back up to park land? Perhaps the agent should find some local hiking clubs or environmental groups to network with. Is it rural but close enough to commute into a city from? The agent could get a magnet sign made for their car and drive in the kind of awful rush hour traffic people might want an escape from. Is your home the perfect size for a starter family home? The agent should befriend daycare center proprietors.
Get the point? With true marketing, yes, you have to work it more but the reward is also greater. The thing is, prosperous circumstances oftentimes mask the need for true marketing. What do I mean by this? When the market is flush with demand – when there are more buyers than sellers – selling is easy which means marketers take credit for generating sales they may have had very little influence on. Think about selling ice cream at the beach. Do you really think that purveyor has to do a lot of marketing to get customers? Of course not!
It’s when demand is soft that the value of a true marketer really becomes apparent. If home sales are down, how creatively is that real estate agent finding prospective buyers? And if no one is walking into that restaurant, even the best marketing-minded server will not make much in tips. It’s then up to the restaurant owner to go out and drum up customers with some creative marketing. True marketers don’t just expect customers to beat a path to their door. And it’s never, “If you build it, they will come.”
So the next time you think about getting some “great” marketer to help drive sales for your business, be a bit skeptical. Perhaps the kinds of questions to ask revolve not around all their great experiences but instead about their most challenging market circumstances and how they overcame them. Look for where the marketer found that intersection with demand that created the sales opportunity, not for where she just met demand as it was already striding in. That’s the person (or team) you’ll want to hire.