It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day minutia of marketing that you start to miss the bigger picture. At the risk of sounding like an existential crisis, sometimes it helps to take a step back and ask yourself, “what’s the point of all this?”
Understanding the core functions of marketing can help you better focus your efforts and strategies to support your business. Not to mention, it’s a whole lot easier to show ROI and relevant KPIs if you know exactly what the marketing department is expected to deliver.
So without further ado, let’s dig into the 7 functions of marketing and take a look at how they align with overarching business objectives.
- Product management.
- Marketing information management.
When people map out their marketing goals, promotion is usually at or near the top of that list. Getting your name in front of prospective customers, building brand awareness and raising your company’s profile are major priorities for every marketing department.
Promotional strategies often overlap with other business units and awareness-building activities, such as advertising and public relations. From a marketing perspective, promotion can include everything from content marketing and email marketing to social media and influencer marketing.
We don’t need to tell you how important these efforts are to inbound marketing and generating qualified leads. It’s no wonder promotion has long been considered an essential component of the marketing mix.
We’ve often cautioned readers about the dangers of coming on too strong and salesy with your marketing content. You risk alienating your target audience by consistently delivering overt sales pitches in your content and making it seem like your only goal is to get people to buy something from you.
The truth is part of every marketer’s job is to sell their products to customers — ideally, though, it’s done with more nuance. Every marketing decision, from your brand messaging to your campaign themes, should support the ultimate goal of increasing sales. Once you’ve grabbed the attention of a potential customer, whether that’s a consumer or B2B prospect, marketers need to go to work nurturing that lead and guiding them through the sales funnel so they’re primed to make a purchase when they finally make contact with your sales team.
That means continually making the case for your brand and gradually incorporating more product-centric talking points in your marketing communications. By the time they’re ready to speak with a sales associate, prospects should know how your goods or services stack up against competing products.
Designing a new product that better meets customer needs and fills a gap in the marketplace doesn’t happen by coincidence or sheer luck. It takes a lot of thorough market research to figure out what people want and how to deliver the best product possible. Marketing teams may identify new growth opportunities when:
- Speaking with prospects.
- Running competitor analysis.
- Incorporating feedback gleaned from customer support services into marketing strategies.
In those cases, marketing research is the fire that fuels product development. Who better understands your target market than your marketing team?
Strategic marketing is driven by data. Every good marketer knows that the more information you can gather about your target customer, industry competitors and market trends, the more successful your marketing efforts will be.
All of that juicy info is as good as gold, so there’s no reason to keep it locked away in some silo. One of the core (yet sometimes overlooked) functions of marketing is to collect this valuable data, distill it down to action items and useful takeaways and share it with other departments that might find it useful.
Sales teams, for instance, can always use more in-depth marketing insights to help them refine their pitches to:
- Address the latest industry trends.
- Respond to competitor messaging.
- Speak directly to the pressing customer concerns.
Marketing research can also inform how brands set the price of a product. Effective pricing is as much art as it is science, and brands need to find that sweet spot that balances how customers value your goods or services with the cost of production and delivery as well as accounting for the current price of competing products.
The perceived value of your brand directly impacts your pricing strategy — just look at the price difference between a luxury fashion brand like Hermès and more budget-conscious retailers like Old Navy. The several thousand dollar price tag disparity for a single handbag can’t be chalked up to production costs and quality control alone. Hermes customers are paying as much for the brand as they are the product itself.
Marketing research sheds light on your brand’s reputation and helps you better understand how much your target audience values your brand. That’s on top of all the competitor analysis and industry research critical to setting a fair asking price for your wares.
Now we’re digging into some of the less-discussed functions of marketing, although they’re still very important to overarching business objectives. Financing may not initially seem like a top concern for your marketing team to worry about, but think about it this way: If your department can’t secure space in the budget to fully support your next marketing campaign, how are you going to meet your goals?
When people think about financing, they often focus on the up-front costs of getting a new business off the ground. But, in reality, financing is an ongoing concern for business owners and company leaders, who need to make difficult budgeting decisions year after year and quarter after quarter.
By helping generate more revenue, expand into new markets and reach more potential customers, marketing teams can demonstrate their value to the organization at large. And that makes it easier to secure the financing they need on a departmental level. Effective marketing management is key in that regard. A marketing program that gets the most value out of available resources and applies the right strategies to engage and nurture qualified leads can show undeniable ROI.
Successful marketing activity also helps businesses secure funding from third parties — say getting a loan from a bank or an investment from a venture capital firm. Any organization, whether it’s an independent firm or a financial institution, wants to see that businesses have a comprehensive marketing plan that will help build the brand, tap into markets and produce healthy revenue over the long run.
“Distribution?” you may be asking yourself, “isn’t that supply chain management’s problem?”
Yes, but where you sell your products or services and how you get them into your customer’s hands is also a marketing problem, whether you’re talking about digital or physical distribution.
Choosing the right distribution channels comes down to understanding who your target customer is, how they view your brand and where they expect to find you — all marketing-centric issues. You would never expect to find a Rolex watch for sale at the Dollar Store, after all. Those brands represent two very different market demographics.
Marketing managers and their supply chain counterparts need to be aligned whenever a new product, promotion or campaign is launched so companies can have all of their distribution ducks in a row. If marketers do their job well, they will generate a ton of buzz leading up to that product release or promotional event, pushing customer demand to the limit. That marketing win can quickly turn into a PR nightmare if the supply chain isn’t prepared to meet demand.
Remember the feeding frenzy surrounding the release of Popeye’s chicken sandwich toward the end of 2019? The marketing team did everything right: building awareness through social media and digital channels and getting target customers unreasonably excited about what was, in the end, just a fast-food chicken sandwich (albeit, a pretty tasty one).
Unfortunately, the company’s food distributors failed to anticipate that high level of demand, and many stores quickly sold out, leaving frustrated customers to search far and wide to get a taste of the new menu item. Reports of exhausted employees working long hours without breaks as they struggled to keep up with long lines and angry customers left Popeye’s with a black eye during what should have been the brand’s finest hour.
Moral of the story: Don’t leave your distributors or supply chain managers in the dark when you’re planning your next big marketing campaign. If it’s half as good as you think it is, you’ll want to prep your distribution channels accordingly.
When you get right down to it, marketing touches pretty much every part of your business. The insights gathered from your marketing efforts can inform and improve any number of day-to-day operations while guiding long-term strategic decision-making. That’s before you even consider how much revenue is generated thanks to your marketing activity.
So, to go back to the original question, “what’s the point of all this?” It’s to make your business successful. As these seven marketing functions show, you can go about that goal in a lot of different ways, but the end result is the same.
Editor’s note: Updated November 2020.