The six marketing imperatives
There are six marketing imperatives that drive, or should drive, today’s small businesses. These imperatives are:
1. No matter what business you think you are in, sooner or later you will also be a marketing organization.
2. As an essentially marketing organization, it follows that marketing becomes your most important business activity.
3. What’s more, as a marketer today, you face competition, other organizations marketing to the same customers or potential customers as you, at an unprecedented level.
4. Because the small organization cannot expect to compete on price or selection, marketing becomes the only way for the small organization to effectively differentiate itself in the marketplace.
5. Marketing is everything you do as an organization that affects your customer in some way; marketing is a very big umbrella.
6. Finally, the market itself is in charge; he, and he alone, determines the success or failure of your marketing effort.
Among the definitions of imperative in my Webster’s New Collegiate are “have power to restrain, control and direct” and “not to be avoided or evaded.” In other words, imperatives are things you must do. Let me briefly develop each of the six marketing imperatives.
First, no matter what business you are in, sooner or later it will be a marketing organization. If you are a traditional company offering a product or service in a local or global market, you are trying to market something to someone. Therefore, it is also a marketing organization.
Second, if this is true, that in addition to anything else you can do as an organization, which is also a marketing organization, then it inevitably follows that marketing becomes the most important thing you can do as a small business, such as non-profit organization, as a group of volunteers. Period.
That is a bold statement that I am sure will catch the attention of many, especially among bankers, lawyers and accountants. They could argue, for example, that an organization cannot survive without a regular supply of cash, which is provided by loans and / or letters of credit. They may suggest that an organization has to protect itself against breaches of contract and / or lawsuits, which is the job of an attorney. They could argue that an organization needs to keep track of its income and expenses to thrive (not to mention not get in trouble with the IRS), which is what accountants do.
But I would argue that while all of those activities are important and certainly require diligent attention, they are essentially meaningless if the customers who walk in the door are not paid; because it is the paying customers who provide the lifeblood of a business. What is marketing supposed to do and what is, consequently, the reason why marketing should be the driving force of an organization, its unique focus.
Which brings us to the third imperative: In today’s global economy, powered by the Internet and dominated by retail monsters, all organizations of any type face competition at an unprecedented level.
Small businesses certainly cannot compete on price. Wal-Mart, Home Depot, OfficeMax, and other so-called category killers, by flexing their bargaining power, can quite often offer an item at retail for what most small businesses would pay in bulk. These 800-pound retail gorillas can fill their large boxes over 100,000 square feet with tens of thousands of items, offering their customers an overwhelming selection; Whatever you need, we have it, usually in various sizes and colors. The last thing a small business should want or even contemplate doing is competing with these people on price or selection; that’s a dead end scenario if there ever was one.
Finally, thanks to its ability to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime, the Internet has practically negated any location / convenience advantage that a local small business or organization might have had.
Marketing is the way a company presents itself in the market. Leading us to marketing imperative number four: marketing itself more effectively, whatever that means, isn’t just the best way, it’s the only way small organizations have left to compete successfully.
The fifth marketing imperative answers the question that naturally follows: If you are a marketing organization and if marketing is your most important activity, what is marketing? I offer this definition: marketing is a very large umbrella, it is everything you do as an organization that touches your client, collaborator or member in some way.
A common misconception is that marketing is synonymous with advertising and promotion or is the same as sales. In many organizations, what is called the Marketing Department is essentially the Sales Department.
But, like a large umbrella, marketing covers much more territory. For example, how you answer the phone is a marketing decision, or should be. Like the hours it is open and the number of people with whom you decide to hire staff for your company. Of course, how you decorate your business is a marketing decision, as is whether you have a logo and how often you use it across various promotional mediums. Whether you use telemarketing or direct mail or the Internet or personal sales calls (or some combination of these) to engage with your customers, it is definitely a marketing decision. Even how easy or difficult will it be for you to fill out the required forms that you can use? Who determines what goes on the form, your customer service and / or sales staff, or the IT staff that processes the information? — it is a decision with marketing implications. The issues, causes, or groups that your organization sponsors have marketing implications, as do the articles you try to get the media to write about you.
I would further suggest that many, perhaps most, small organizations tend to view these functions only from a management or cost accounting perspective, and rarely, if ever, see them as crucial marketing decisions. They should.
The sixth and final imperative is both dazzlingly obvious, yet almost always overlooked or taken for granted: the market always prevails, it is the final arbiter of your success or failure as a marketing organization. What I am suggesting here is that despite all of our best efforts to plan and control our marketing efforts, and as marketers, we devote a great deal of time and resources to planning and control, it is really the market that who is in control. Time and time again, large corporate marketers have launched a product with a well-planned and well-funded marketing effort, only to have the product greeted by the market with a huge collective yawn. On the other hand, time and time again I have worked with small businesses that opened their doors expecting to provide certain products or services, only to have the market tell them that they, in fact, wanted other products or services. Certainly, recognizing this imperative is not intended to excuse marketers from the need to conduct research and develop thoughtful plans. Rather, it is meant to suggest that the marketer understands this imperative and will pay attention, rather than struggle with what the market may be saying.
Perhaps in some semi-mythical and happy past, marketing for a small business may have been a “when we get down to business” option, but nothing more. In today’s marketplace, you trade aggressively, trade shrewdly, and trade forever or die.