marketing skills for the 21st century

I post a lot about digital marketing and marketing analytics on this site, so I think it’s time to take a step back to answer the question: What is Marketing?

A corollary might be: Why do you need marketing?

What is marketing?

Ask the average business person: What is marketing? and you’ll likely get some version of the 4P’s — product, price, promotion, and place (actually distribution). You could argue that these factors are no longer relevant in the digital age, but suggested replacements often look dramatically similar to the original, with just a little fancy terminology added.

But, do the 4 P’s answer the question: What is marketing?

Here’s the definition provided by Business Dictionary:

The management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer. It includes the coordination of four elements called the 4 P’s of marketing:
(1) identification, selection and development of a product,

(2) determination of its price,

(3) selection of a distribution channel to reach the customer’s place, and

(4) development and implementation of a promotional strategy.

Notice the reliance on the 4P’s in addressing what is marketing?

In contrast, the American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Better, but still a little stiff.

Here’s one from Jay Conrad Levinson of Guerilla Marketing fame:

Marketing is any contact that your business has with anyone who isn’t a part of your business. Marketing is also the truth made fascinating. Marketing is the art of getting people to change their minds. Marketing is an opportunity for you to earn profits with your business, a chance to cooperate with other businesses in your community or your industry and a process of building lasting relationships.

With all these definitions, the notion that marketing is a distinct field of study with concepts and theories in its own right gets lost. No wonder everyone thinks they can do marketing.

It’s in the application of these principles that firms optimize performance relative to their marketing goals.

Here’s a little slideshare I put together showing the myriad of marketing decisions involved in implementing marketing

Why is marketing important?

Sure, the notion that everyone in the company contributes to marketing. But, that obscures the role of marketing in driving market performance; relegating marketing to an afterthought in many organizations.

There isn’t much agreement on what marketing does that’s so important.

Supporting this, a Google search using the term: why is marketing important failed to turn up a single, authoritative source showing why marketing is important. Somehow we have the notion that you have to do marketing, but somehow, it just magically happens through promoting and selling your product.

Let’s start by understanding why marketing is important.

  1. Marketing contributes nearly 100% of the profit to any business (no sales = no income)
  2. Marketing understands consumers which guides product development/ innovation
  3. Marketing drives internal customers (employees) to support organizational goals

What a marketer needs?

I go to lots of networking events and, as a marketing professor, I often ask about their education and how it prepared them for their marketing roles.

One thing that consistently amazes me is that many don’t have a marketing education. Instead, I commonly find folks with engineering or law degrees, or folks who were English, Political Science, or any one of a number of different degrees.

And, it’s not just me.

Take a look at this graphic from SmartInsights that shows the gap between the most valuable marketing skills and those available to organizations:

what is marketing

Image courtesy of SmartInsights

Notice, the top 3 marketing skills businesses know they need are:

  1. Digital marketing
  2. Data analytics and insights
  3. Strategic thinking

So, where do you acquire these necessary skills?

Unfortunately, most are not taught as part of a traditional marketing degree — at least not anywhere I taught before. Instead, we’re teaching a 20th century curriculum to students working with 21st century marketing needs. And, the few that are taught, such as strategic thinking, don’t provide sufficient experience in actual implementation, but focus on cases where they observe how others handled marketing situations.

That’s the key to learning these skills — you have to get your hands a little dirty.

I use the analogy of medicine. Would you want a doctor who did great in memorizing every body part, every disease, every treatment, but had never touched a human before?

Of course not. Medicine is part science, but it’s also an art — that’s why they talk about practicing medicine. Marketing is the same way.

Digital marketing

Digital marketing is still an elective, if it’s even taught in most universities. And, because most PhD’s have no expertise in digital marketing, the class is either taught by marketing professors trying their best to update their knowledge of digital or practitioners who have little or no understanding of how digital is built off existing marketing knowledge — neither of which produces the best students.

I’m teaching a digital marketing class at the University of Maryland next semester so I scoured the internet to see what other universities are teaching students in their classes. The results were disappointing. Most were simply using Harvard cases involving digital companies, which is better than nothing, but it doesn’t help students who have little experience with the intricacies of digital marketing.

I think the assumption is that most students are active social media users and they can extend their current understanding of digital with a little strategic thinking to become experts in digital marketing.

In my class, we’ll read state-of-the-art advice from digital leaders as well as bringing in a host of folks who do digital every day. Plus, students will get their hands dirty learning the tools of the trade.

Data analysis and insights

Marketing has pretty much given up the notion of teaching analytics. Sure, we have a market research class and that’s important. But, we do almost nothing with secondary data that provides insights critical for the success of the organization. Very few schools require (or even offer) a course in marketing analytics that helps drive insights on pricing, branding, campaigns, or that demonstrates the ROI of current business strategies.

Instead, we’ve turned the task of marketing analytics over to business intelligence with the mistaken notion they are better at all this numbers stuff. After all, they know Python, R, and SQL. We don’t have time to teach our students this stuff.

But, how do analysts know which questions to ask?

Often, marketers are determining which questions analysts use to query databases. Sometimes, analysts even set up interactive systems allowing marketers to ask their own questions.

But, that isn’t enough. Marketers trained in data analytics are better at asking the right questions because their minds are trained to think analytically. They’re detectives searching for answers in the numbers representing consumer behaviors using both the data and their understanding of consumer behavior concepts.

Strategic thinking

Here’s the one skill schools do teach all marketing students — every school I ever taught in requires a marketing strategy class and most require a business strategy class.

So, why is there still such a gap between the contribution of strategic thinking to business success and a firm’s ability to hire marketers who think strategically?

My experience tells me it’s because we rely too heavily on case studies as a method for gaining strategic thinking skills rather than having students involved, under the guidance of a skilled instructor, in developing strategy. It’s just a lot easier to critique someone else’s strategy than to develop one of your own.

Fixing the problem

Fixing the problem is really a paradigm shift for business schools and businesses alike.

Schools need to:

  • change their curriculum and instructional techniques
  • change the way they hire and promote faculty to emphasize business engagement rather than writing another journal article that no one will ever read. New theories should come from the application of current marketing knowledge in collaboration with business activities rather than in isolation — building one theory on the shaky bedrock of existing theories
  • provide more exchange of ideas between industry and the academy
  • provide students with more hands-on experience

Businesses need to:

  • hire specially trained marketing students rather than “going cheap” by hiring students from other majors
  • recognize that marketing starts before there’s a product with understanding and appreciating the existing of gaps between what consumers have and what they want
  • integrating marketing across operations so marketing is an integral part of not just promotion and selling, but pricing, customer service, product development, creative, and strategy