The Six Imperatives of Marketing
There are six imperatives of marketing that drive, or should drive, today’s small business. These imperatives are:
1. No matter what business you might think you’re in, sooner or later you are also a marketing organization.
2. As an essentially marketing organization, then it follows that marketing becomes your single most important business activity.
3. What’s more, as a marketer today you are confronted by competition, other organizations marketing to the same customers or potential customers that you are, at an unprecedented level.
4. Because the small organization cannot hope to compete on price or selection, marketing becomes the only way the small organization has to effectively differentiate itself in the marketplace.
5. Marketing is everything that you do as an organization that touches your customer in some way; marketing is a very big umbrella.
6. Finally, the marketplace itself is in charge; it, and it alone, determines the success or failure of your marketing effort.
Among the definitions of imperative in my Webster’s New Collegiate are “having power to restrain, control and direct” and “not to be avoided or evaded.” In other words, imperatives are things you must do. Let me elaborate briefly on each of the six marketing imperatives.
First, no matter what business you might thing you’re in, sooner or later you are a marketing organization. Whether you are a traditional business offering a product or service in a local or global marketplace, you are trying to market something to someone. Therefore, you are also a marketing organization.
Second, if this is true, that besides whatever else you might do as an organization, that you are also a marketing organization, then it inevitably follows that marketing becomes the single most important thing you can do as a small business, as a non-profit organization, as a volunteer group. Period.
That’s a bold statement that I’m sure will raise more than a few eyebrows, especially among bankers, attorneys and accountants. They might argue, for example, that an organization cannot survive without a regular supply of cash, which loans and/or letters of credit provide. They might suggest that an organization has to protect itself against contract breaches and/or lawsuits, which is the job of an attorney. They might advocate that an organization needs to keep track of its income and expenses in order to prosper (to say nothing of stay out of trouble with the IRS), which is what accountants do.
But, I would argue that while all of those activities are important and certainly require diligent attention, they are essentially meaningless without paying customers coming through the door; because it is paying customers that provide the lifeblood of a business. Which is what marketing is supposed to do and which is, consequently, why marketing should be an organization’s driving force, its single-minded focus.
Which brings us to the third imperative: In today’s Internet-driven, monster-retailer dominated, global economy, every organization of whatever kind faces competition at an unprecedented level.
Small businesses certainly can’t compete on price. Wal-Mart, Home Depot, OfficeMax and other so-called category-killers, by flexing their negotiating muscle, quite frequently can offer an item at retail for what most small businesses would pay for it at wholesale. These 800-pound gorillas of retailing can fill their 100,000+ square foot big boxes with tens of thousands of items, offering their customers an overpowering selection — whatever you need, we’ve got, usually in multiple sizes and colors. The last thing a small business should want to or even contemplate doing is compete with these folks on price or selection; that’s a no-win scenario if there ever was one.
Finally, thanks to its ability to reach anyone, anywhere at anytime, the Internet has pretty much negated any location / convenience advantage a local small business or organization might have had.
Marketing is how a business presents itself in the marketplace. Thus bringing us to marketing imperative number four: Marketing itself more effectively — whatever that might mean — is not only the best way, it is the only way that small organizations have left to successfully compete.
The fifth marketing imperative answers the question that naturally follows: If you are a marketing organization and if marketing is your single most important activity, then what is marketing? I offer this definition: Marketing is a very big umbrella, it is everything you do as an organization that touches your customer, client, contributor or member in some manner.
A common misconception is that marketing is either synonymous with advertising and promotion or is the same thing as sales. In many organizations what is called the Marketing Department is essentially the Sales Department.
But, as a big umbrella, marketing covers a lot more territory. For example, how you answer the telephone is a marketing decision, or should be. As are what hours you are open and how many people you decide to staff your business with. Of course, how you decorate your business is a marketing decision, as is whether you have a logo and how consistently you use it between various promotional media. Whether you use telemarketing or direct mail or the Internet or personal sales calls (or some combination of these) to interface with your customers is definitely a marketing decision. Even how easy or how hard you make it to fill out any required forms you might use — who determines what goes on the form, your customer service and/or sales people, or the IT people who process the information? — is very much a decision with marketing implications. What issues, causes or groups your organization sponsors has marketing implications, as does what articles you try to get the media to write about you.
I would further suggest that many, perhaps most, small organizations tend to consider these functions only from a management or cost accounting perspective, and rarely, if ever, see them as crucial marketing decisions. They should.
The sixth, and final imperative is at one and the same time blindingly obvious and yet is almost always overlooked or taken for granted: The marketplace always prevails, it is the final arbiter of your success or failure as a marketing organization. What I am suggesting here is that despite all of our best efforts to plan and control our marketing efforts — and as marketers we devote a great deal of time and resources to planning and control — it is really the marketplace that is in control. Time and again large corporate marketers have launched a product with a well-planned and well-funded marketing effort, only to have the product be greeted by the marketplace with a huge collective yawn. On the other hand, time and again I have worked with small businesses that opened their doors expecting to provide certain products or services, only to have the marketplace tell them that they, in fact, wanted other products or services. Acknowledging this imperative is certainly not meant to excuse marketers from the need to conduct research and develop well thought out plans. Rather, it is meant to suggest that the wise marketer understands this imperative and will pay attention to, instead of fight with what the marketplace may be telling them.
Perhaps in some semi-mythical, halcyon past, marketing for a small business may have been a “when we get around to it” option, but no more. In today’s marketplace you market aggressively, you market astutely, and you market always, or you die.