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Demystifying Business Marketing: A Guide for Non-Marketers

If you think of Ad Pro, Design or Brochures when you hear “marketing”, you are missing the marketing picture. This guide is for you!

As a marketer in Silicon Valley, I get asked all the time what I do at start-ups that don't have a product to sell yet. I have found that the large majority of professionals outside the marketing discipline have a common misconception that marketing is marketing communications. With no product, what am I going to communicate to customers?

This post is for all of you marketers who need a fast answer when you get asked that question. And for any of you out there who don't know why it's such a silly question.

Marketing includes downstream responsibilities for promotion, communications and customer engagement, but those are just the tip of the marketing iceberg. At the end of the day, marketers are responsible for their product’s success, and that means they must be competent and accountable for opportunity assessment, value determination, product and user needs definition, product adoption and revenue forecasting, product placement, targeting, market selection, sales and distribution strategy, among many other responsibilities.

Here's a little (and perhaps over-simplified) glimpse of what the different types of marketing are and where they are used. Keep in mind, most marketers are educated and competent at a very broad combination of these different skills and will use whichever skill is needed for their product at the time in its lifecycle.

This is an eye-chart but useful reference - skip below for now if it's overwhelming (or too small)!

Marketing team roles and deliverables by product lifecycle
Marketing team roles and deliverables

Let’s start at the beginning: Strategic Marketing

Strategic marketing involves setting long-term goals and developing comprehensive plans to achieve them. Some strategic marketers might have 10-year market development plans. My favorite example is the electric toothbrush. The strategic marketer had to prepare consumers to accept a $100+ price point for a toothbrush after they had been used to paying just a few bucks. That takes long-term planning and deep strategy.

Some things strategic marketers might do include:

  1. Market Analysis: Analyze the competitive landscape and market trends to identify opportunities and threats. SWOT analysis and market sizing, for instance, are common activities in this space.

  2. Long-term Market Influence: Assess market trends, purchasing behavior and buyer decision-making to create and execute a long-term strategy to influence buying behavior.

  3. Goal Setting: Define clear, measurable objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress toward achieving goals. This often has to do with expected adoption and is built into market models.

  4. Market Mix: Strategic marketing includes decisions about product portfolios, product conversion rates and product obsolescence.

Strategic marketers are the long-term planners of the marketing world.

Upstream Marketing:

Upstream marketing begins with product conceptualization. It's a strategic approach to shaping what the business offers and how it's positioned in the market.

Here are a few activities an upstream marketer might engage in:

  1. Market Research: Comprehensive market research (this includes both market trending research as well as “voice of customer” or “VOC” work). This involves analyzing the market, identifying trends, opportunities and gaps, and understanding customer pain points, needs and preferences.

  2. Product Development: Based on the insights gained from market research, guide the development of products or services that are tailored to meet customer demands and provide unique value. You may have heard terms like user needs or customer requirements in this phase.

  3. Positioning: Upstream marketing defines how the business-line should be perceived in the market. It includes establishing competitive and product positioning, and developing a clear value proposition.

  4. Target Audience Selection: Upstream marketing, usually in partnership with downstream colleagues, also identifies and prioritizes specific target audiences, ensuring that the products or services align with their needs and expectations. Market segmentation and account targeting exercises are commonly done at this point.

Downstream Marketing Sometimes called “Market Development”, downstream works closely with sales teams and often directly with customers and communications teams.

  1. Customer Journey: Downstream marketers define the customer journey including managing promotional efforts such as advertising, content marketing, social media campaigns, and public relations. In this capacity, they work closely with Marketing Communications leads.

  2. Customer Engagement: Downstream marketers also build and maintain relationships with customers to drive customer support (word of mouth, for instance), loyalty programs, and feedback to enhance the customer experience.

  3. Product Placement: Downstream marketing plays a vital role in ensuring products or services are readily available to customers through various distribution channels and sales strategies. This can include pricing strategies, competitive response planning, distribution modeling, sales planning and sales training.

Product Management Product management can be upstream, downstream, market development or new product development focused. It can even be cradle-to-grave marketing. Product management is a role within marketing that bridges the gap between upstream and downstream activities.

PMing involves:

  1. Product Strategy: Product managers are responsible for defining the product vision and strategy based on market insights. They ensure that the product aligns with the company's goals and customer needs.

  2. Development and Launch: Product managers work with cross-functional teams to oversee product development, ensuring that it meets market requirements. They also plan and execute product launches.

  3. Lifecycle Management: Product managers are involved throughout the product's lifecycle, making data-driven decisions to optimize the product's performance, identify opportunities for improvement, and determine when to phase out or update the product.

Marketing Communications Marketing communications (or Marcom) is what a lot of people think of when they hear “marketing”, but this is actually a totally different discipline than business marketing. This is the team that helps define how we can reach the customers and what the right messaging and brand is.

  1. Channel Management: Marketing communications are responsible for understanding how customers consume information and ensuring that marketing campaigns are reaching the right customers through their preferred channels. They may manage journal ad placement, digital marketing, social media marketing among dozens of other channels to the customers.

  2. Messaging: Marcom is also responsible for understanding how customers perceive information and defining the specific language needed for each target segment. They identify and refine what images, words, etc., resonate with the target audience the most to drive awareness and engagement. This one is often a close collaboration with downstream marketing or product managers.

  3. Brand Identity: Marcom is also responsible for understanding what the desired brand is and creating visual, verbal and other brand elements that support that brand. They work closely with designers and others to ensure the customer experience is aligned in every aspect with the product brand.

Why Does This All Matter? If you know a little about marketing, you probably know that it’s very rare for a company to have all of these specialized marketing groups. In most organizations, marketers must master many of these skills. Marketing executives in particular need to understand the ins-and-outs of all of these areas and marketing operations to boot! After 25 years, most of us have had our hands in most if not all of these various aspects of marketing. And we are needed at the earliest stages of product conceptualization.

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