What Is Marketing Anyway? (And How To Know If It's Working)

When I open a presentation on marketing to an audience of IT services CEOs who are not clients of mine, I like to start by asking, “What is the purpose of marketing?” Almost without fail, the answers shouted out include, “Getting your name out there!” or, “Building your brand!” or, “Generating awareness!” Only after a bit of prodding and encouragement will they finally get around to answers that make more sense, such as, “To generate leads!” or, “Bring in paying customers!”

With such ambiguity about the purpose of marketing and what it’s supposed to do, is it any wonder so many people fail at it? When you ask, “Why did that marketing campaign fail?” the answer is, “I didn’t get a single lead or phone call,” or, “I didn’t generate a single new client.” So, if THAT is the criteria for how you are measuring the success of your marketing plan, shouldn’t you DEFINE marketing’s purpose a little more clearly to align with expectations? Therefore…

Marketing is the practice of finding, attracting and fully monetizing clients to sell products/services, generate profits and facilitate the company’s growth goals.

You’ll notice I didn’t *just* define marketing as “generating sales” or “bringing in new clients.” I also didn’t define it to a specific metric, such as to generate a 10x ROI on your marketing spend or a 30% open rate on e-mails or a 2% response rate to a direct mail campaign. Yes, marketing does all that, but it’s much, much more…

In new client acquisition, marketing should facilitate and accelerate the sales process by attracting right-fit prospects, preselling them and predisposing them to do business with you. With existing clients, it should increase retention, referrals and spend, forever increasing the value of each customer and your overall business. It puts you in a position of marketplace dominance, eliminating the competition and putting your business in a category where price sensitivity is nearly nonexistent. It can help you recruit and retain tremendous employees and leaders. It can help you attract prize accounts. And it will allow you to do business on YOUR terms instead of feeling like you have to bend and bow to meet the demands of others.

Can marketing really do ALL that?

Yes, but ONLY if it’s understood, mastered and NOT viewed as a department of your organization that you delegate or neglect.

Therefore, GREAT marketing STARTS with the foundational strategy upon which your business is BUILT. Who specifically do you want to interest, attract and compel response from? I find that most MSPs and IT services companies are extremely fuzzy about this when questioned. They’ll say, “Anyone with 10 to 100 computers.” When pressed, they’ll INSIST they must serve a grossly diverse client base, ranging from small to large, in every possible vertical. As Dr. Nido Qubein said, “Who your customer is today is a piece of DATA; who your customers should be is a piece of STRATEGY.”

After all, how can you even begin to craft a marketing communication strategy when you don’t know WHO you are talking to, what they care about and what media will work best in delivering your message? From there, marketing (and more specifically your chosen market) must direct your entire product and services strategy, including how you price your product or service, how you deliver it, how you bundle or package it, what features it includes, etc. If the “ad” or promotion is difficult to write, chances are the product or service is flawed. Crude, but as I’ve oft told clients: I can only polish a turd so much. If you don’t design your product or service TO SELL, and you instead design another “me too” business, no amount of marketing is going to overcome the mediocrity of your offering. It must define your financial model – how much it costs to acquire a customer, how long it takes you to break even, and when and how you will make a profit. It must define what your business is about. What are the core principles and values you stand upon? What is your strategic, competitive advantage? Your USP (unique selling proposition)? Why would a customer buy from you over all the other competitive options they have? If you cannot provide a COMPELLING answer to that question, how is a better website or social media campaign going to fix the fundamental flaws in your strategy? (Hint: It won’t.)

Some people would consider these business strategy questions, but all of these questions are marketing questions. Because most MSPs and IT services start-ups think of marketing as an afterthought OR think tactically about its approach, they end up pushing a rope uphill, trying this, trying that, jumping from one shiny penny to the next, never making any real progress.

Further, marketing should not simply be reduced to lead generation or the acquisition of new customers. If you are investing time and money on marketing to bring in new clients, ignoring the ones you have by not frequently communicating to them, selling to them and engaging them, you are essentially stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime.

So how DO you know if your marketing is “working”?

It’s simple: Is your marketing measurably facilitating and accelerating the process of money-getting in your business? If it is, then it’s working. Could it be improved? Probably – but if it’s at least generating leads, clients and revenue with an acceptable return, count it as successful and work to improve it, not abandon it. If it’s not facilitating and accelerating money-getting, it’s not working. Simple.

Some people – mostly those with degrees in marketing – think this viewpoint on marketing is “crass.” But I’m a business owner with a payroll to meet and a burning desire to make money, so if my viewpoint is too “limited” for you or if you don’t agree with me on this, you probably aren’t going to like a lot of the things I tell you to do or how to design campaigns. I write and design ’em to facilitate SALES based on a long history of what works today and what worked 100 years ago. Not to fluff up my clients’ egos, not to win awards, not to make people feel good, not to make people laugh and definitely not to *just* get a name “out there.” Dollars and cents in the bank presently, and in the near future. A measurable ROI.