What exactly is marketing and why is it important to you as an entrepreneur? Simply stated, marketing is everything you do to place your product or service in the hands of potential customers.
It includes diverse disciplines like sales, public relations, pricing, packaging, and distribution. In order to distinguish marketing from other related professional services, S.H. Simmons, author and humorist, relates this anecdote.
"If a young man tells his date she's intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he's saying the right things to the right person and that's marketing. If the young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is — that's advertising. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is — that's public relations."
You might think of marketing this way. If business is all about people and money and the art of persuading one to part from the other, then marketing is all about finding the right people to persuade.
Marketing is your strategy for allocating resources (time and money) in order to achieve your objectives (a fair profit for supplying a good product or service).
Yet the most brilliant strategy won't help you earn a profit or achieve your wildest dreams if it isn't built around your potential customers. A strategy that isn't based on customers is rather like a man who knows a thousand ways to make love to a woman, but doesn't know any women. Great in theory but unrewarding in practice.
If you fit the classic definition of an entrepreneur (someone with a great idea who's under-capitalized), you may think marketing is something you do later — after the product is developed, manufactured, or ready to sell.
Though it may feel counter-intuitive, marketing doesn't begin with a great idea or a unique product. It begins with customers — those people who want or need your product and will actually buy it.
Entrepreneurs are in love with their ideas, and they should be. After all, why would anyone commit their energy, life savings, and no small part of their sanity to anything less than a consuming passion. Because entrepreneurs are passionate about their idea, product, or service, they innocently assume other people will feel the same. Here's the bad news — it just doesn't work that way!
People have their own unique perceptions of the world based on their belief system. The most innovative ideas, the greatest products, or a superior service succeed only when you market within the context of people's perceptions.
Context can be many things, singly or simultaneously. To name a few, you may market to your customers within the context of their wants, needs, problems solved, or situation improved. Entrepreneurs need to be aware of many other contexts, such as social and economic trends or governmental regulations, which we'll discuss another time.
People don't just "buy" a product. They "buy" the concept of what that product will do for them, or help them do for themselves. People who are overweight don't join a franchise diet center to eat pre-packaged micro-meals. They "buy" the concept of a new, thin, happy and successful self.
Before you become consumed with entrepreneurial zeal and invest your life savings in a new venture, become a smart marketer. Take time at the beginning to discover who your potential customers are, and how to effectively reach them.
Without a plan, your entrepreneurial dream is really wishful thinking. While a marketing plan can be a map for success, remember that the map is not the territory. A strategy that ignores the customer isn't an accurate reflection of the landscape.
A good marketing plan can help you focus your energy and resources. But a plan created in a vacuum, based solely on your perceptions, does not advance the agenda. That's why market research, however simple or sophisticated, is important.
Just keep in mind that research attempts to predict the future by studying the past. It reveals what people have done, and extrapolates what people might do — not what people will do.
Planning is imperative, research is important, but there's no substitute for entrepreneurial insight. After all, as Mark Twain wrote, "You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus".