The True Role of Marketing: For the Budding Marketer

According to the Webster Dictionary “Marketing is the process or technique of promoting selling and distributing a product or service.” Webster defines a “Marketer” as “one that promotes or sells a product or service.” Is this an adequate definition? Let’s pause and think harder about the role of a Marketer.
There’s a problem with defining the role a marketer plays as “promoting and selling.” When defined thus it narrowly and erroneously focuses one on “my product” and “selling my product.” When it is not about “my anything.” Effective marketers see their roles less as “promoting and selling” and more as “customer problem solvers.” 

My first marketing lesson came when I started my career as a “database marketing analyst”. I had no idea what that truly meant and what I was supposed to do. Instead I was focused on producing “reports” – how many customers acquired what they bought how much they spent etc. This is when my boss at the time told me “remember the person closest to understanding the customer is the most influential person in the company”.  This one lesson changed the trajectory of my career and helped me develop a true marketing mindset. With this new-found insight I embarked on a quest for true customer-centricity that led to the company launching a new line of business more profitable and with a bigger market segment than the core business at the time.
The person closest to understanding the customer
is the most influential person in the company
This learning has stood the test of time for me. It didn’t matter if I was helping launch a new product, a new category or scaling in current markets, the singular influencer of success remained the deep understanding of the customer. When you focus on knowing more about the customer, it offers greater clarity and presents options that were hiding in plain sight for a marketer to leverage.

Some of the best marketing minds I have had the fortune to work with didn’t see themselves as “marketers”. Instead, they believe they are a “customer problem solver.” This perspective allows you to think customer-first and ask the right set of questions. It focuses you to think strategy first and not delve too quickly into “marketing campaigns” and get mired in MQLs, CAC, Conversion Rates or Pipeline metrics too early. The effectiveness of any marketing campaign hinges on clarity of thought and that comes from clarity around the customer problem to be solved and how a customer wants to feel.

There are several ways to gain deep understanding of customers, such as working through a Value Proposition Canvas exercise or adopting a Design Thinking process and some others. These two, in particular, are great tools. I have, however, observed that for some companies they are either too cumbersome or time consuming. So, if you are a marketer under time pressure or have a less experienced organization, and are unable to go through value prop canvas/design thinking process, what’s a practical choice to move forward without compromising on customer understanding?

Here’s a simple 2X2 Customer Insights Grid that I have often found helpful:
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 The 2X2 Grid focuses on 4 key questions:

  1. What “one” problem does the customer have:
    This question helps understand the language target audience uses to describe the problem. It is extremely important to discover the “one” problem that is large enough and solving which will
    provide meaningful benefit to the customer.
  2. How does the customer fix the problem:
    This allows to understand how and where they look for solutions and if it indeed meets their needs.
  3. What does the customer need to accomplish:
    This focuses us to ask about the eventual goal that the customer strives for. This is a higher order “need” that will help a marketer truly understand the customer vision and not just what job they need to do.
  4. How does the customer feel when she achieves her mission:
    This helps understand the state of mind that customers desire. Ultimately, most customers make an emotional choice.

Product teams focus on a similar process. However, they focus on “how customers use a product”, “what features they use and how much," “what friction points stop them in their tracks,” “which other products to they use and how,” etc. The marketer, instead, should be more interested in “how customers describe their challenge,” “how do they find other solutions,” “how do they describe their jobs to be done.” and “what emotions do they feel when they can get a job done well.”

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