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7. What is the role of marketing today?

Marketing has evolved from the days of the Four P’s, but not necessarily in a good way. Kyle & Jeff discuss the role of marketing in today’s organizations, and what they believe needs to change.


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Kyle: Hello and welcome to unReactive where we look to help marketing leaders reclaim their time and sanity by exploring the topics that keep us stuck in a state of reactivity. I’m Kyle Morck, and I’m joined as always by my co-host Jeff Reynolds. How’s it going, Jeff?

Jeff: I’m absolutely fantastic. How about you?

Kyle: I’m doing well.

Jeff: Yeah. Good.

Kyle: So the format we’ve fallen into on this podcast is one of us brings a topic with some actionable steps marketing leaders can take, and then we take a deep dive on that topic and those steps.

Today I want to try having a little looser conversation about a topic that’s been on my mind recently, and that is what’s the role of marketing today?

Jeff: A nice small topic you chose there, Kyle

Kyle: It’s broad. It’s very broad. But last week, we discussed one side of why we believe that marketing is broken. Kind of a fundamental tenet of upMarketer. And what we talked about was the complexity that has formed for marketing. And I think the other side of that coin is that we’ve forgotten really what marketing is and what it’s supposed to accomplish. I don’t really know when necessarily this started, but at least the last decade or two marketing has been pigeonholed into just the designers or running ads or generating leads.

Jeff: A hundred percent. And think if I was to try to predict the time that that happened, It was largely just the birth of the internet and direct marketing at scale where everything can be direct to the customer, whoever that is.

Kyle: Yeah. And I think that that is very much a big part of it and budgets have increased over the last while. Just all of those mass communication parts. So there’s more pressure to fit marketing more neatly into a box, I think. And what I really think of is, so there’s the four Ps of marketing. I know you’re familiar with them.

Have no idea if they still teach it in marketing classes today. I think there’s probably debates to be had over how important they are, but that’s something that all marketers really kind of learn and it’s product, price, place, and promotion. And what I think is really demonstrative of where we’re at today is that we’ve reduced things and compacted ‘em down to where we just have the one P now, and that’s promotion.

Jeff: Yeah, and I mean the reality is the four Ps was like the first framework for marketers. It was developed in a academic sense, and it was actually, I think, trying to shift where marketers were before, like they were having this same discussion in the sixties about what is marketing. And I think Professor McCarthy, I think that’s his name developed the four Ps and that was the framework that suited that time.


Kyle: And on top of that the professor that came up with the four Ps, he was specifically trying to see can we treat marketing more like a science? And I think that’s still a big part of the debate today that has led to it being really focused on promotion because those other three Ps are a lot harder to measure.

Jeff: I think that’s true. I also just think that there’s a lot of the dynamics within organizations drive a lot of that. So as marketing has shifted away from simple mass communication, you know, a TV spot on three big networks. That was really what they meant by promotion, right?

It was literally mass advertising or figuring out how to add a 30 cent off sticker, coupon to a product. And the reality is the channels through which people buy the product and through which they learn about the product has so exploded that when you start trying to apply those Ps, it’s a huge list.

Just promotion is a huge list of to-dos, and so other departments have sort of taken over the duties of the product and place and and so forth.

Kyle: Yeah, that’s a great point that one of those is very clearly under marketing’s purview to kind of everybody. So when that promotion got more complex, it became a natural place for …marketing got overwhelmed just handling the promotion side of it. So everything else kind of fell off the plate.

Jeff: There’s another lesson to take for the four P’s, and that’s that it covers a lot of ground. And there’s this quote by Peter Drucker, and the quote is, the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.

And I don’t know if you would agree with that, but I think it’s an interesting little maxim from a great business thinker, right? The purpose

Kyle: I think it’s hard to argue with.

Jeff: It’s hard to argue with it, but what I think is most interesting about Peter Drucker’s point and when we start applying it to the four Ps is that if you take that, the create part, so if you say marketing’s largely responsible for the creation of the customer. If you take that as like the center point, you go upstream from that and you get things like defining the market, defining the customer segments, figuring out the positioning, product development and product feature sets to fit those customers, all those sort of upstream things from promotion and then downstream sort of hints at this, you know, touching revenue , right? By definition, if you’re creating a customer, there has to be some revenue generation. That’s what makes a customer - they bought something, right? So I just think it’s interesting to think about as the world has evolved and the diy, the do-it-yourself and sort of self-serve capabilities of the internet, have come in. Then what’s happened is we’ve actually gotten marketing more focused on the closer things to that creation.

Kyle: Yeah, I agree. And I think that there’s also downstream pieces of that customer creation too, with the customer retention and all of those.

Jeff: I just don’t think we have really clear definition. I mean, this question is so fundamental to our work, you know, what is the role of marketing, yet very few organizations have actually clearly defined that.

Kyle: Yeah, and what I’ve been feeling is that we don’t really have a clear definition for what marketing even is, much less its place within an organization. Like I’ve seen a lot of debate between the concept of brand and marketing, as if those are, two competing forces within an organization that some people are marketers, some people are brand builders, or whatever that might be.

And I truly don’t understand the difference, like brand’s really important, but brand to me is a tool of marketing. It’s not something that can be spun off into a silo.

Jeff: I a hundred percent agree, but I think that falls into all sorts of new categories of marketing that we have, right? Whether you, you talk about brand or lead generation or demand gen versus whatever, you know, performance marketing, all these things are treated as if they’re somehow in opposition to quote marketing, you know, capital M marketing, when in fact they’re not.

They’re all subsets. Marketing is an enormous tent, which may be part of the problem.

Kyle: Yeah, and like we’ve talked about this before, that really demand generation is just marketers trying to rebrand traditional marketing that, you know, you get out there and try to make people want your product. And we are at this place where we’re treating it like it’s some brand new concept that is, you know, unheard of in the space when really it’s just, that’s what marketing always was in the.

Jeff: Yeah, if I, if I’m a CEO and my chief marketing officer comes to me and says, we really need to hire a demand marketing expert. I would be thinking, what have y’all been doing? That’s the whole job of marketing, or at least 80% of it.

Kyle: Yeah, so, so thinking through this, I tried to come up with a definition for marketing that works for me, and what I came up with is a marketer’s job is to thoughtfully establish, materialize, and communicate a company’s brand in service of their business goals.

Jeff: Interesting. So where do you stick, sort of the day-to-day marketing activities, you know, creating ads, running promotions, whatever those things are. Is that the materializing

Kyle: Yeah, I think it’s both the materializing and the communication of- You need to bring that brand to life, whether that’s visually, whether it’s in words, whether it’s in feelings, and then you need to make sure that your customers can engage with that in whatever format that might take.

Jeff: Yeah, I mean, I think I can accept that definition. It’s so interesting. As just an exercise. When you put a point on the wall of a definition. There’s so many angles to take to either argue it or defend it. Right? Because even in your definition, you said establish, materialize, and communicate a company’s brand, which almost makes it sound like the brand, well, or at least it leaves wiggle room as to whether the brand is owned by the marketing department, for example.

But you would argue that it is, that, that it, it’s all wrapped up into one,

Kyle: Yeah. So if we take a step back and just talk about brand itself, I am very much of the school that, you cannot decide what your brand is. Your brand is decided by your customers, by what you actually do, how that’s perceived, but at the same time an organization needs to do their best to make sure that they are thoughtfully putting something out in the world in the way that they want it to be perceived.

And everything that you do as a company is going to define your brand, your products, your CEO, how you do customer support. All of that defines your brand. But you need somebody that can drive that. And I just can’t imagine a world in which it would make sense for that not to come from your marketing leader.

And I can’t imagine a world in which someone could be in charge of that brand and not be in charge of marketing

Jeff: Yep. I buy it. I’m in.

Kyle: I wanna talk a little bit about just the breadth of marketing when we’re talking about its place within an organization. That’s the thing that I really think that we’ve lost sight of is how many different forms marketing can take and be really effective.

There’s one example that I love. Last time I was flying internationally, I flew on Delta and I had the Delta app on my phone. And once I was onboard my first flight, I got a notification from the app that my bags had been loaded onto the plane. And all I could think about is how good of marketing that is for Delta. You’re about to go fly across the ocean. Just having the peace of mind that your bags are on the plane, just that function, that’s going to be a big consideration next time that I go to book a flight. If I’m trying to decide between Delta and American, that’s gonna be a big swing for Delta.

Jeff: Yeah. It’s an immediate anxiety reducer. Right. And also just sends the message that Delta cares, which I think we so often think about marketing activities only in terms of like the direct response of them. If we sponsor this event, how many eyeballs will see it or whatever. Instead of thinking about how that shapes the perception of the overall brand.

But that’s a great example. And I would just add, I mean just in general, it’s like, oh, you need business cards redesigned? Call the marketing department. Need a PR specialist? Call the marketing department. Need to figure out how to optimize the conversion rates of your digital ads? Call the marketing departments.

You know, it’s when you start thinking about the range of things from literally typesetting business cards to strategy that’s asking a lot of, any human or set of humans within an organization.

The breadth is almost unbelievable.

Kyle: Yeah. And to your point earlier I think that’s a good example of what’s really been happening is that we’ve taken that typesetting the business card as an absolute that marketing definitely has to handle. So we’ve trimmed space off of the top of it instead of trimming the fat from the bottom of the least useful things that marketing does.

Jeff: That’s because the plane board has sort of shifted, you know, tilted on an angle and it all just runs down to marketing. Right? And I mean, granted, in the old days, like in my first experience running marketing departments, the marketing departments were the only ones who had computers, like on every desk, right?

Or certainly desktop publishing skills and things like that.

Kyle: Yeah. And I think that that’s a really interesting point as AI is obviously on the lot of people’s minds recently, and I think that AI hopefully will be a tool to unlock marketing departments within an organization. I don’t think at all that a good marketer is in danger of losing their job to AI because all it’s doing is all of these new tools, not just ai, but things like Canva and everything of that sort that takes away those barriers to entry for doing design, building websites, writing copy, all of those pieces. I actually think that that could be really empowering for a marketing department to where you’re not spending all of your time doing things that you do just because you’re the only one that has the necessary skills to design a business card or what that might be.

Jeff: No, and actually it shines a light, Kyle on what a waste of resources and talent we’re. We, the way we have things currently structured is, you know, we are taking the people that often, and of course we’re biased, but often marketers are among the more creative, free thinking, innovative people in the organization.

Some of the most sort of open to change people, some of the most forward looking people, and yet we use them to typeset business cards.

Kyle: Yeah, exactly. I always think of marketers when I try to think of the type of person that gets into marketing -it is an artist at soul that has the understanding of the world enough to know that they need to make money. And I say that as a former artist that I know you don’t make money there.

So then you can move into marketing when you wanna be realistic about that. But you still have that kind of artist’s soul in your nature. And I just don’t think that companies are embracing that enough and getting the full yield out of that, that they could.

Jeff: A hundred percent.

Kyle: So big picture here is I just think that there’s just so much free space that marketing needs to do a much better job of exploring beyond just lead generation and all of those pieces.

Jeff: Because if you’re typesetting business cards, you can tell this is a sore spot with me because we actually have a business card project in the shop that is like a little silly thing. I mean, it’s just, it’s going rounds on its simple typesetting thing. So that’s why this is very fresh on my mind, business cards.

But the real issue is when folks are focused on business cards, they’re not focused on exploring other spaces, you know? Right.

Because you’re stuck in the low value work instead of, you know, doing the community building aspects of all this, among other things.

Kyle: When I think of the role of a marketer, and this is something that’s one of the tenets of upMarketer, is I really think that the key thing that a marketing department needs to do is take ownership of the customer within their organization. Cuz frankly, a marketer can’t do their job without a deep understanding of the customer’s needs, their wants, their fears.

All of that psychology is just so important to understand, to be able to effectively do marketing, and if they need that information to do their job successfully, it just makes sense for them to drive that customer understanding within an organization.

Jeff: And not just understanding. I would say that marketing needs to become an advocate for the customer, right? Because what happens in organizations is they, we start drinking our own Kool-Aid and we start thinking that the reality that we’ve created within our, you know, teams or Slack channel or something, is somehow real and it may or may not be. So advocating for the needs and the wants of the customer because you have a deep understanding and then acting as a bridge in many ways between those customer insights and the more tactical revenue generating strategies and tactics.

That seems critical.

Kyle: Yeah, exactly. And as you were speaking, one thing that many of our clients we work with, sales becomes the keeper of that customer knowledge within their organization. And I think that’s really dangerous cuz effective salespeople, they find a customer niche and they exploit that as hard as they can.

Like that’s what they need to do to be really good at their jobs and they shouldn’t understand their whole customer base, that would be just a waste of time for that seller. And then on top of that, it’s a very specific type of customer that can be sold to, you know there’s a specific type of customer that wants to have those human interactions face-to-face, whatever that might be. But the majority of your customers especially and that it, it becomes even more this way every day as Gen Zers become more decision makers, millennials, all those, they don’t want to talk to sales. They don’t wanna be sold to so, if they want to be engaged with on their own time, on their own schedule, marketing’s the only department that can really own that journey.

And I really think that marketing departments need to put in some real conscious effort in getting out of the sphere of influence of their sales team and their customer understanding, cuz that’s just not, the incentives aren’t aligned for sales to really understand their customer in the same way that marketing needs.

Jeff: Okay, so I wanna go back to the beginning of that because I think that’s fabulous point here. When you say that sales people need to be focused on niches that, you know, there’s riches and niches, cliche, right? What you’re saying is, if you are, I think so tell me if I’m reading you right here, is if you are, say, selling a food product you as a salesperson need to become an expert in maybe a channel.

So that could be. You know, college and universities or K-12 or food service or you know, retail or even different kinds of retail, right? Convenience stores versus grocery stores, right? And so you need to become an expert in that sort of segment, generally from most brands. And you need to understand the humans and the people.

Within those, within that niche. But that precludes you. Or at least it’s unlikely that if you’re so focused on convenience stores, you’re gonna see everything through the convenience store lens. And that’s great for you as a salesperson, but it’s not what the organization needs cuz the organization needs somebody.

You can objectively weigh convenience store orders versus grocery store orders, for example. Is that, is that a fair?

Kyle: And on top of it a lot of good salespeople have been in their roles for, you know, years. So you might have relationships, especially in the B2B manufacturing space that we work in a lot. You know, they might have relationships going back 25, 30 years, so they need to understand that customer really well.

But that’s not the customer that is coming into the space today and starting to make those product buying decisions.

Jeff: Yep. We had a, we had a client where one of their sales reps, I think they called ‘em area managers or something used to, they, they sell a building material product and they used to drive around and just look for cranes of hotels that were for sale in the region that they were visiting and try to, you know, go knock on some doors, right?

When the project’s already being built. And that worked for him. And frankly, it worked great through the eighties and nineties. As the internet came on, he was still stuck, if you wanna use that term, in that methodology. And that’s because he could keep mining that deeper and deeper.

And it worked for him perfectly. But it wasn’t good for the organization because he just, he knew how to sell into, let’s say, hotels, but maybe they really need to be selling into senior care facilities where there are no cranes because they’re two stories. Instead of, you know, 20 stories.

Kyle: And if you as a marketer- let’s imagine that you came in as marketing director in that organization and you think, well, this guy’s been here for 30 years. He’s got a lot of great knowledge on the customer. I should go talk to him. And then if you take that as being, you know, gospel. You are doing yourself a huge disservice because it’s not that he’s wrong, he’s right for what he needs for his job, but that is not going to be the future and that’s not going to be what you need for the organization.

Jeff: So you have to own the customer. Marketing should own the customer. And on the big picture, I just, that gets me so excited I start yelling into the microphone because I just think that’s such a basic and fundamental idea. Are there other, other approaches here that you think matter in this definition?

Kyle: Yeah, so you have a framed poster in your office from your Y Combinator days of the Paul Graham quote, make something people want. And I think that like the Drucker quote is fairly inarguable as a business concept. Like you can’t be successful if people don’t want your product. It’s a good reminder cuz plenty of people forget that, but what that makes me think of is that if marketing is going to own the customer, which they should, it only follows that marketing is going to be the best source for what the customer wants. If you’re developing products in a vacuum without marketing’s input, you have no idea if you’re creating something there’s actually a market for, and it’s astounding to me how many businesses are going to market with products and all of that product development happens somewhere else. And then they reach out to marketing a month before launch day and say, Hey, you need to put together a promotion plan for this.

Jeff: Yeah, and I think part of that is people are intimidated by this word research or something where they think research is gonna tell them all the answers or you know, it’s gonna be really expensive or really involved, or really bog you down. And all you’re saying is. Go out and talk to human beings,

Kyle: Yep.

Jeff: and then use the insights from your brain to integrate sort of the, well, I could go back to what was your definition of marketing? Because that’s really what it is, right? When you’re developing the product, you’re doing the materialization, I remember that word, right? So the, the product is the materialization of the value proposition. And the bottom line is that only comes from talking to humans. And I’m using that phrase specifically cuz there is a great e-book for interviewing customers called Talking to Humans.

And it’s just about that idea. So highly recommend that.

Kyle: And it can be as simple as that. You can go deeper in your research, but if you’re a marketing leader, you should be trying to set up a call a week with either a customer or I think even better, a potential customer. And you know, like I do that myself and trying to engage with marketing leaders on our services. You know, I try to talk with a marketing leader at least once a week. It’s just a natural way that you get to understand that, and I’m really taking it from a marketing perspective, like I’m not doing that as sales or anything like that. I’m trying to better understand who my customer is so that I can know how to better build out products, build out services that will really connect with them in the ways that you need to to be successful at a business..

Jeff: Yeah. It seems so basic, but I think also what you’re really stating here is that marketing should, the role of marketing largely, and of course there are many things around the fringes of it, is to own the customer and then get involved in the product and influence the product, which only makes sense because you own the customer.

Kyle: Right.

Jeff: And obviously you want customers or you wanna build products that customers want.

Kyle: Exactly.

Big picture for me, really as we’re going through this, I am trying to talk to CEOs, the leaders of organizations that hire marketing directors, marketing leaders and my PSA for them is that, your company is doing a huge disservice to itself if your marketing leadership doesn’t have a seat at the table when those decisions are made, I think that most CEOs are really underestimating the potential impact that a really strong marketer can have on the organization.

And one piece of that is that you need to think of marketing way beyond just promotion. That if you start to let your marketers unleash themselves upon the organization with that customer understanding, that’s when you’re really going to start finding those results that make a company go to the next level.

Jeff: Yep. If you’re gonna be paying people a lot of money, but you probably are, you should put them in a place where you can get the highest and best use out of them and where it benefits both you, the company, and them and their careers. Right. So it’s just logical. makes complete sense.

Kyle: All right. Any last thoughts before we wrap things up here?

Jeff: I guess the whole discussion about the role of marketing, I just wanna say that I think as an industry we’re past time to evaluate and have this discussion, and I don’t think, obviously we’re taking 30 minutes to have a conversation about a very broad topic and every organization, their why or their definition of the role of marketing can be different.

And that’s fine. I think the real thing is to hunt for clarity so that you can design an organization to achieving your goals and not sort of just some expectation of this is the way it’s always been, or this is the role of marketing.

Kyle: Yeah. I would say to take it a step further, it’s not just fine for every organization to have marketing look different, it’s actually how it should be. Cuz I think that’s one of the biggest issues is that, we act like marketing is just this paint by numbers thing that you just apply to an organization in the same way.

And that’s a lot of the problems is the leadership of the company’s not being thoughtful about what role marketing plays in their organization.

Jeff: Yeah, you can’t take a factory that manufactures tanks and make it really quickly and easily able to manufacture ladles or something, you know? They’re different designs from the ground up. And the same thing should be true with your marketing department.

Kyle: Exactly. Thank you all for listening today. If you want to get more content like this directly in your inbox, be sure to sign up for the unReactive newsletter at upMarketer dot io. And if you have any topics you’d like to hear discussed, please reach out to us on our website or social media. We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for chatting today, Jeff.

Jeff: Thanks for bringing it Kyle.

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