Suidan Associates The Firm

What The Heck Does Marketing Do?

By Zuhair Suidan, December 2005

An IBM Tivoli advertisement leads with "MISSION – Keep systems running, sales selling, accounting counting and marketing doing whatever it does". It's catchy; maybe even funny. But it makes you think… What the heck does marketing do?

Gurus Peter Drucker and Philip Kotler tell us plainly that marketing is not selling, that its role is to create goods that sell themselves, making sales superfluous… On the practitioner side, you get Sergio Zyman, former Coca-Cola Chief Marketing Officer, proclaiming: "The job of marketing is to sell lots of stuff. " Well, which is it?

Then we get Silicon Valley marketing legend Regis McKenna telling us that the marketing function is increasingly being marginalized into marcom (for marketing communications). He adds that marketing strategy is so integral to business strategy, that it is becoming the responsibility of the chief executive.

The reality of it is that you get as many different definitions of what marketing is as the number of people you ask, and you find as many different implementations of the marketing function as the number of companies you look into. Unlike other professions, such as accounting, engineering, sales, software development, human resources… marketing seems to defy tight definition.

Although marketing includes marketing communications, public relations, promotions and advertising, Marketing with a capital M is much, much more. Marketing covers everything relating to understanding who the customers are, their needs, their values, their perceptions and their buying behavior… It includes understanding competition, its offerings and its position in the market place vs. one’s own position... It also encompasses understanding the company’s internal capabilities and limitations, as well as its opportunities and threats.

Marketing leads marketing strategy development, in particular, deciding which markets the company focuses on (and just as importantly, which it does not), which needs it aims to satisfy (and just as importantly, which it does not), and which offerings it should bring to the marketplace (and just as importantly, which it should not). Marketing segments the market and coordinates the tailoring of the company’s strategy for each segment.

Marketing’s most important role, however, is still bigger than the functionalities listed above. That role is to be the champion of Marketing strategy implementation within the organization, ensuring that all functional areas are on the same page, speaking the same language and pulling in the same direction. It is the glue that keeps all parts of the company focused on the customer.

You have good Marketing then when development develops what needs developing, services provides the required services, support delivers the right support, pricing prices competitively, sales sells what should be sold, and their individual plans are part of an integrated, synchronized Marketing strategy.

As I work with client cross-functional teams, I lead them in realizing that they are all part of (capital M) Marketing. The research people are doing Marketing research, the strategists are developing Marketing strategy, the developers are creating Market solutions, the services people are providing Marketing services, manufacturing is producing Market satisfying goods… and so on.

Back to Tivoli’s ad, the more appropriate question then is not what does marketing do, but rather what does Marketing NOT do!

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.


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