What is Marketing? (Old Article)

(Please note that all the articles pointed as (Old Article) are written during my earlier stint of blogging, in 2000-2007) and hence may sound a little dated. But the principles behind them are intact)

"Because let's face it, friends, as marketers we are in the business of mindfully structuring appearances and messages to create an attractive experience that is calculated to persuade." Says Chris Maher in marketingprofs. So marketing is meant to persuade people(commonly known as consumers) through a message.

This precise misconception creates the entire advertising bandwagon, the rich media supporters, flash for websites managers and give me something cool designers. The view that marketing is meant to send messages and convince a customer. The view that marketing starts with your product and ends with a customer purchase. The view that marketing is really sales.

All the above is false and misleading. The real purpose of marketing is to "be a voice for the customer". The profession of marketing starts with the customer and ends at creating the right product for the need. Of course this process is iterative since finding the groups of customer with exact needs is not an easy tasks. But with this view the whole focus of marketing function shifts from advertising focused delivery of appearances and messages to customer service and product design. Opening up channels to get customer feedback, analyzing the feedback to come out with product ideas, talking to customers and listening to them becomes a priority for marketers. Hence web is not viewed by them as a delivery channel for messages but as a medium for conversations. Rich media is not attractive for marketers but the message boards are.

All this shift in marketplace that gives customers a phenomenal power is seen as a problem by the people who believe in the first definition. It does not allow them to convey persuasive messages. It breaks the myth of homogeneous market segments. It destroys the economics of mass media. It creates a lot of chaos due to multiple voices speaking the truth about what they want and demand from companies. But the people who define marketing as a "voice of the customer" relish this change. They get to talk to the customer directly. They can identify trends and shifts in the mind of customer early. They can spot competitors and react to the threat much earlier than before. They can spot opportunities and develop strategies. They can even sell to the customer directly. Thanks to the search engines, they can attract the customer without disturbing him. The marketing can be very much aligned to the user's needs and convenience. The real smart ones even let the customer test and build product ideas.

So what should I as a marketer do? My suggestion is to leave the pretenses about "structuring appearances and messages" and talk directly to the customer. Talk in his voice and listen to him carefully. Create channel of communication where the customer can give feedback and suggestions. Create incentive for the customer to give ideas and make him/her feel that those ideas are shaping the future of your company. And most importantly truly listen to those ideas without biases. See which of them are important for your companies future and are worth developing further. Get back to the customer even if you feel those ideas do not make sense.

All this is very easy to do if one is convinced of the second approach to marketing. For all who believe in the first approach all the best of luck, you are going to need it for your survival.