The definition of marketing is something I am asked about frequently. Just last week a CEO asked me, “Steve, so what is marketing?”

I’m not surprised I get asked this question, since one of my personal missions is for people to abandon the marketing-is-advertising-websites-brochures-Facebook-PR-and-other-communications mindset and think differently.

“Marketing is encouraging your customers to do things that improve your business results,” I answered.

That’s the definition of marketing. Simple. And true.

Your business succeeds not only because of what you do, but because of what your customers do. When customers take the time to learn about you, talk to you, talk about you, buy from you, use your products, give you feedback, buy more of your products, etc…. all of these actions impact your results.

This may seem basic, but most companies skip the very important step of asking, “So what is it we want our customers to do?”

Here’s a simple example. One of my clients has a beautiful website that gets a ton of traffic. The problem: Very few of the thousands of people who visit their website ever call the company to inquire about their products. The key to making sales for my client’s high-end, high-ticket business is a personal conversation on the telephone. When designing the website they assumed that the main purpose of the website was to give people great material to read, and then for the site visitors to actually read that material. Had they asked the basic question, “What do we want our customers to do?” and answered with, “Call us,” they would have been able to design the site completely differently.

It’s really that simple- and that problematic- if you don’t ask this basic question.

A few years ago I worked with a company that manages a number of fine dining restaurants. In processing the question,“What do we want our customers to do?” we calculated that the company would be significantly more profitable if only one of every ten tables purchased one more bottle of wine. By defining clearly, “We want to encourage one of every ten customers to buy one more bottle of wine,” we were able to create a very focused program to sell more wine. Yes, the company had previously talked to servers about selling more wine, but it was not a priority, and they didn’t have a clear strategy for how to accomplish it. By defining it in terms of customer action, the company saw the value of this effort and was able to focus on it.

Ok… but how do I get my customers to take these actions?

This can best be explained by looking at Yastrow & Company’s Brand Harmony Results Model, which shows us the answer:

Brand Harmony Results Model – View a larger version

Customer beliefs drive
customer actions

Customer actions drive results, but customer actions are driven by what customers believe (Not by what marketers tell customers to think).

As I laid out in detail in my book Brand Harmony, you don’t brand your customers; they brand you. Customers reserve the right to believe whatever they want about you, and customers use those beliefs to drive their actions. Therefore, the brand strategy development process is not about determining what you want to say to customers, it is about determining what you want customers to think about you.

This is another very critical step that companies often skip, answering the question, “What do we want people to think of us?” This question is very important, when you look at the Brand Harmony Results Model and see how directly customer beliefs impact your business results.

So how do I get customers to
believe these things?

The main premise of Brand Harmony is that customers use every contact point with your company to form their brand impressions of you. Whether you like it or not, your customers consider your company one big marketing department.

If marketing is about encouraging your customers to do things that improve your business results, you must look at marketing as a whole-company, whole-customer-experience process. Everyone in your company, and every customer touchpoint, is part of your marketing process, whether your company recognizes it or not.

Take Notice

As a customer, how often are companies trying to engage you to do things that would help them? Or, are companies using their marketing efforts just designed to dispense information?

How do you compare?

Now, look at your company’s marketing strategies and marketing efforts. Are they directed at encouraging the most profitable customer actions?

Try This

Gather a team of your colleagues in a room, and write this up on a whiteboard or easel:

Then go through your different types of customers, and for each one write down the 5 – 10 things each could do to improve your business results. Then, discuss how well your current marketing efforts are directed at encouraging these actions. Do you see room for improvement?

Marketing is about encouraging your customers to do things that improve your business results. That’s it. What I’ve outlined here is the very core of my thinking about marketing; everything else flows from here.

1 Comment

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    Feb 01, 2011 - 12:46 pm

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