I recently read an article by the title “Marketing is Dead”, on HBR. The title is obviously very provocative. As a result, it triggers a large number of comments and responses.
As I was reading the article and some of the readers’ comments I realized, yet again, that there is still much confusion and lack of knowledge about what is marketing. This is not new, and I’ve personally experienced it in several companies around the world. It’s one of the least understood professions, which also explains why few companies do it well.
Moreover, this problem is very common in the hi-tech industry, which is full of very smart people. Many of them come from a technological background, e.g. engineers, programmers, researchers. For whatever reason, many of these smart people don’t understand or value marketing and don’t really consider it a profession.
Therefore, I decided to dedicate this post to shed some more light on marketing and some of its key areas.
Misunderstanding #1 – Marketing is not Essential
The lack of understanding and appreciation for marketing is evident in many business areas, in particular when companies find themselves in a financial crisis or a recession environment. Then, marketing is the first function, and people, to get the axe. The thought is that a company can survive without marketing.
Unfortunately, that’s not true. It’s like a football team without a quarterback. You might be able to run a few plays and even defend. However, you are not going to win. In fact, great companies are marketing driven, not technology or engineering driven. I’ve learned that the hard way with my first company, and first product.
Misunderstanding #2 – Great Technology is more Important than Great Marketing
It was the early 90’s, I was a young chip-design engineer at National Semiconductor (NSC), and was part of a large team that was developing our next-generation processor. It was a 64-bit, super-scalar, RISC CPU, with over a million transistors. Yes, this is nothing today and yet then it was the state-of-the-art and was going to be one of the highest performance CPUs on the market.
Our main competition then was Intel. At that time, their team was developing a technologically lesser processor called Pentium. Our processor was better than the Pentium in most of the commonly used benchmarks. It was based on a new and innovative architecture.
To make a long story short, our product barely sold a few thousand units before it was shelved forever. As for the Pentium, well we all know how it faired in the market.
The primary difference between these two products – Marketing!
Our product suffered from poor marketing. It never had a real target market or customers (in fact that changed at least three times that I was aware of). Therefore, it was not defined to meet specific customers’ needs, or solve a specific problem. It never had a clear value proposition or a go-to-market strategy.
It was a great technology looking for a problem/application. The result of an engineering-driven culture that ruled at NSC those days.
Intel, on the other hand, had a very clear focus. They were after the PC market. So they worked closely with Microsoft to develop the best platform (OS, CPU, I/O) for that market. In addition, they had a very clear and successful value proposition and positioning (Intel Inside). As a result, Intel was the dominant leader of that market. Of course, it also had great technology and manufacturing. However, it had a very strong marketing team that led it to become one of the most known brands in the world. In a class with Coke, Disney, and McDonald’s.
Marketing Done Right
To be successful, companies need to identify the right target markets and customers; they need to develop products/services that serve the needs or wants of these customers better than the competing offerings; they need a clear and compelling value proposition that can fuel demand creation, and successful positioning (branding). The results are revenue and profit growth, as well as high market value.
The above set of activities and processes are all part of marketing. Needless to say that they are critical to a company’s success. Therefore, it requires the right people, in terms of skills, education, and training, to do them well. Furthermore, marketing needs to be high on the priority list of CEOs and business leaders.
David Packard, the late founder and CEO of HP once said: “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department”.