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MY ARTICLES

WHAT IS MARKETING?

I often discuss marketing with current and potential clients, but a recent visit to the kiosk of a consultancy firm in the field of corporate strategy convinced me that my next article should be on clarifying the role of marketing in companies. During that visit, the firm representative explained that the company offers advice to senior management, but when I brought up marketing, I was made well aware that this company did not consider marketing to be a key strategic element of a business.

An expression I often use to illustrate the reach of marketing in a company is: Marketing encompasses all activities employed by a company to attract and retain customers. This is a wide definition, but it is often broken down into the management of the 4 Ps, 5 Ps and in some cases up to 10 Ps. The first four "Ps" (Product, Place, Promotion and Price) are unavoidable and are the cornerstone of any marketing plan, but new marketing approaches have helped to create at least one other “P” = People.

Let’s quickly talk about the 5 Ps:

Product: This dimension is relevant to all companies: manufacturers, processors, distributors as well as service providers. Let’s first talk about manufacturing companies, and use as an example a cell phone manufacturing company. The engineering department develops the phone and its main features, but the marketing department adds other applications, does focus groups to find the most suitable color(s) and other physical characteristics, designs packaging for the phone, elaborates on guarantee and support elements, and concludes strategic alliances with network companies supporting the phone (amongst other things). From this example, we can see that the marketing function adds significant value to the phone and makes it distinctive in the marketplace. The same can be said for service companies. The service you get at a dentist, for example, is much broader than simply filling cavities or getting an annual checkup. There is the waiting and treatment rooms’ layout and décor, waiting time, appointment speed, emergency availability, how friendly the staff is, appointment reminders, the quality of the documents given to you, supporting tools, professional qualifications, etc. Here, a simple and necessary procedure is greatly enhanced by taking into account and improving the overall experience that the customer has when doing business with a specific dentist.

Place: Here, we are talking about the place where the company’s products or services are delivered. For example, a company may choose to sell its products online, in a commercial space on a busy street (and receive collateral traffic), or both. A company may also choose to use a number of intermediaries in getting its product or services to its end users or it may choose to vertically integrate the entire process (from product creation to delivery, as Dell computers does) in its distribution strategy. Add international sales to all these permutations and we have a great range of options to consider. Same thing goes for services. Thanks to the Internet, services can be delivered more easily. For example, in the field of training, courses can be taken in physical classrooms, or via webinars, pre-recorded video or personalized consultation via phone, Skype or other video conferencing platforms. “Place” is one of the dimensions of the marketing mix that has been most affected by the Internet revolution. It is now easier than ever to start a business from the comfort of one’s home or to sell products or services to multiple markets.

Price: Defining your pricing strategy is not a simple task. How to know at what price to sell? There is always “cost-based pricing”, and this technique can be great when the market is highly competitive, but otherwise, it can underestimate what the market is willing to pay. There is also “market pricing” which is defined as the price the market is willing to pay for a product or service. Here, one needs to take into account the selling price of one’s competitors, but also how one differentiates oneself. There is also price as differentiating factor. You want to differentiate yourself from your competitors? You can sell at lower prices or position yourself as a luxury product. And what happens if your product or service is revolutionary? How to determine the right price then? Finally, other things to consider are: payment terms; impact of early payment on your cash flow; the financing needs of your customers due to a high price sale; a multiple payments strategy; or the requirement of a deposit which may have to go through a trust account. As you can see, the price dimension of your marketing mix is a very important variable that can quickly become complex.

Promotion: This is the best known or most prominent "P" of the marketing mix. It is under this “P” that you will find commercialization strategies, mass communications strategies, advertising, sales, representation and other elements used to publicize, brand and sell goods and services. As we saw earlier, marketing is more than just the final transactional step. Under this "P", we also find some elements of eMarketing. It is my opinion that all online activities by the company and/or its representatives aimed at developing a rapport with customers/potential customers should be included in the 5th "P"; People. Here we should keep advertising and promotional activities done online aimed to either inform or sell. The difference between the two is thin, but this is how I categorize them in my strategies.

People: Here is the latest "P" of the marketing mix. It is a result of businesses' increased engagement in developing relationships with existing clients; in ensuring they repeat the buying process; and in turning every customer into an ambassador so that he promotes the brand among his contacts, thus increasing potential customers. To meet these objectives, companies began to look at the entire purchasing process starting with the client’s awareness of the company’s offering, the acquisition of information, the buying process, the after-sales and the process of continuous improvement to strengthen ties with customers. The company-customer relationship is a collaborative one - now more than ever. The reason underlying this initiative is undoubtedly the understanding that it is financially more viable to sell more to existing customers than to find new customers. Furthermore, it is well known that word of mouth is one of the strongest features of marketing. With the tools that marketers currently have, it is possible to activate word of mouth and have it be more rapid and dynamic than before. Most activities that are found in this section are generally called "relationship marketing".

Another important aspect of marketing which can be found throughout the various elements is analytical marketing. This is another dimension that is revolutionized by the Internet. Who, before the Internet, cared or had access to these statistics other than companies with financial means? Now, with the democratization of statistical data, you are able to see what pages of your website get the most views, develop online questionnaires to better understand your customers, watch keywords and know who competitors are in a single click. Indeed, the business intelligence of a company is more readily accessible than ever before, enabling better decisions and management of marketing by all managers of SMEs or sole proprietorship companies.

As for the other "Ps” that marketing gurus have proposed, they are more about emphasizing a dimension of marketing than announcing a revolution for me. Let’s take for example the “P” that characterizes "Process" which was highlighted by the researchers Boom and Bitner. When providing a service, it is almost impossible to disassociate the client from the process. Some areas might exist where this may not apply, but for the most part, the client is an integral part of the transformation process, whether this transformation applies to him or to his network. When in comes to the field of manufacturing, we saw earlier while discussing the "P" of People , that the customer is increasingly  involved in the designing of a product that will answer his needs. So, is it necessary to define another "P" for this aspect? I leave the answer to marketing intellectuals, but I would suggest that if there was a need for another “P” in the current marketing world, perhaps the “P” of “Personalization” would be appropriate. Indeed, businesses of all sizes are putting additional effort into developing products and services that meet all or most of the needs of their target customers. Personalization has become a differentiating factor for many.

In conclusion, I believe that with the current 5 Ps , we are able to cover all the marketing actions and activities that will make your business a success.

If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact me.

Have a great day!

Stéphane Elmaleh-Riel, B.Ed., MBA
Marketing consultant