Marketing isn’t communication

Pretty much every social media blogger and podcaster I come across today writes as if marketing and communications were the same thing. Communication certainly has an important role to play in marketing but it isn’t the same thing as marketing.

Marketing is the practice of identifying people’s unmet, or unconscious, needs and fulfilling those needs profitably through appropriate goods or services. It creates tangible value that people are willing to pay for. Fundamentally, it has nothing to do with communication.

Defined in this way, there is nothing bad, unethical or manipulative about it. What could be wrong with understanding people’s needs and fulfilling them, at a price they are ready to pay? We do that every day in our personal relationships. We may not get paid in money, but we certainly are rewarded for it. It’s the same thing that a local store owner will do every day to keep his customers happy and loyal. Understand who they are and provide them with what they need. No one has a problem with that. Certainly his customers don’t.

Why does it matter? Because it’s this confusion that has turned marketing into a dirty word. And stops people from thinking about the true nature of marketing and how to do it well. Marketing can be done poorly. But poor marketing has nothing to with exaggerating the truth, playing to people’s insecurities and fears, dominating the conversation and knocking people over the head with 1000+ GRP TV media plans. Those are the sins of bad communication, not bad marketing.

Recently I heard a podcast suggest that companies should already be thinking about consumer needs at the early stages of product development. That this is what good marketing ought to be about. Excuse me? This is what good marketing has always been about. This isn’t new. Except, apparently, for those social media podcasters and bloggers who believe that marketing and communication are the same thing.



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7 responses to “Marketing isn’t communication

  1. Sue

    “…companies should already be thinking about consumer needs at the early stages of product development” . Oh dearie me, talk about re-inventing the wheel! No doubt the author of the podcast will give this “new idea” a snappy title and write a best-seller about it…I don’t know, the things I’d do if I didn’t have integrity!

  2. inga

    so you are saying consumer is the king? i not only believe that this an outdating paradigm but also that this has never been the truth. in fact companies’ nr.1 priority has always been the profit not the consumer, and “serving consumers’ needs” is just a perfect alibi. back then in russia we only had 2 types of pfand-bottles – milk ones and bier-lemonade-juce ones. that made the pfand – system extremely lien and sufficient. funny, for children it even was a source to get some extra pocket money – gather bottles and bring them to the store. now, every bier brand has its own designed bottle, sure not because consumers want that, but to stand out of the competition and sell more. afterwards bottles end up in trash, because bringing them to the glass-trash is a matter of that lacking good – responsibility.
    I believe the consumer is striving for easy and often irresponsible consumption, the companies use that to make more money. that is the constellation that our planet cannot take any more. I get horrified when I think that countries with the most population – china and india – are only entering the vicious world of consumption.

  3. Stephen Rothman

    Hi Inga. No question — corporations have an ethical and social responsibility to do what’s right, even if it conflicts with making a profit and increasing shareholder value. I’d be the last person to naively trust in all companies to do that. Nevertheless, an increasing number are stepping up to the plate — for many reasons. For one, a planet that is about to self-destruct isn’t good for business or profits. For another, companies consist of people, many with families and children they care about, and they are concerned about the kind of world they will leave behind for them. I believe that firms that seek profit above all else, with no regard for the consequences for the environment and society, will fail to attract the best talent and themselves will ultimately fail. Finally, thanks in part to people like Al Gore and Bob Geldorf, I think we’ve reached a tipping point with regard to concern for the environment and the global community. And it’s not going to go away. So the good news is that more and more consumers won’t settle for products whose manufacture or use threaten the welfare of the environment or exploit others. On top of that, social media enables us all to spread the word more easily than ever as to which companies are doing the right thing. And to make our individual voices heard to those that don’t. That means that environmental and social responsibility is becoming a basic consumer need that marketers will need to meet if those products are to succeed in the marketplace. Have a look at the blog m-cause, written by a P&G brand manager, which looks into the relationship between marketing and good causes.

  4. Amen! I couldn’t agree with you more. As a marketing consultant for the public sector, I come across this confusion/lack of understanding every day. Marketing is seen as a dirty word because it’s associated too much with promotion, which is only a fraction of the marketing process. Have a look at my colleague’s post on exactly this issue:

  5. Stephen Rothman

    Hi Mike, just read Jim’s interesting perspectives. When marketing is executed properly, a process of understanding and responding to people’s needs, its fit within the public sector seems natural. I guess the cynic – and taxpayer in me – questions how many public institutions always remember that their ultimate purpose is to serve the needs of the public.

    Sorry I just got posting and responding to your comment today. I just discovered WordPress had relegated it to my spam file.

  6. … just as marketing is sometimes equated with ‘selling.’ And what really hits home with me is when someone equates “public relations” with hype, truth-stretching, or even lying to take advantage of someone or some situation. Conscientious practitioners can perhaps make it a point to clarify all these misperceptions when opportunity permits.

  7. Pingback: Isn communication | 168xuexi

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