Marketing is one of the most misunderstood practices in business today. For most of us, marketing is about convincing potential customers that our product or service is worth their money. And while that's certainly partly true, it never struck me as the whole narrative.
Where does marketing really begin? As management guru Peter Drucker stated it, "Marketing is the whole business seen from the customer's point of view." Put another way, every single interaction the customer has with your business can and should be seen as marketing.
I've argued elsewhere that a truly successful business is one that is an ongoing conversation. Those conversations are marketing if you add value and connect to your customer, you're succeeding. If you don't, you fail.
It's easy to know if you're succeeding while having those conversations; we're all pretty good at sensing when customers are happy as we directly interact with them. But we often forget a crucial ongoing conversation that usually occurs beyond our personal presence: The conversation between the customer and our products.
Case in point: I've worked closely with a well known software firm that spends millions on marketing programs that do a very good job of convincing consumers to buy their products. Once those products are in the hands of customers, however, that marketing spend ends. But the conversation has just begun: the customer not only installs the software, he or she then interacts with the product again and again, often multiple times a day. And sometimes the customer sees an error message.
And while the software company doesn't see it that way, that error message is marketing. Unfortunately, that message is written by a programmer, and it fails to do anything but irritate the customer.
But wait, you might argue, marketing isn't involved in the creation of a product! Marketing is all about selling the product once it's made! Sadly, this is how marketing is usually defined. But it shouldn't be. When you are developing your product, you are, in essence, developing a marketing program. If you view your product as an extension of your marketing efforts, chances are your business will be far more successful.
In short, marketing and product development are not separate functions. They should be part of the very same thing. Imagine an error message that said: "Oops, our software just got confused. We're a bit embarrassed, but here's a link to a forum where other customers with exactly the same problem can talk about the error. We make sure that our representatives are always there to answer questions as well, so there's a pretty good chance we can find a fix quickly. Please come by to tell us about what happened. If you do, we'll give you a discount on our next upgrade, and you'll be helping us develop an even better product over time. Thanks!"
Now that's what I call a conversation: marketing that integrates product development with customer service. I can't wait till it happens.