Marketing: The Concept vs. Marketing: The Department

I see much debate on LinkedIn groups about marketing (and have started a bit of this myself, I must admit). A lot of the issue boils down to the concept of marketing vs. the reality of the marketing department in most organizations. Let me explain.

The concept of marketing is reflected in the 4Ps of the marketing mix (please, let’s not go into whether it’s 4Ps, 5Ps, 25Ps or 125Ps: It makes my hair hurt). The 4Ps refer to Product, Price, Promotion and Place.

Product – Defining, developing and creating a product (including a service) to meet a market need. Includes research, development and production.

Price – Determining what customers are willing to pay for the product and the profit margin the company can expect.

Promotion – Encompasses multiple media (advertising, public relations, word of mouth, etc.) to communicate the benefits of the product. Also includes sales.

Place – How the customer purchases the product and the market environment (economic, social, legal).

As you can see, the 4Ps of the marketing mix are very broad and touch just about every department in a company. In most companies these functions are handled by different departments including marketing, communications, product development, sales, finance, legal, research, etc.. I have yet to see a marketing department handle all of these activities directly, or to even be responsible for all of it. In fact, in many companies even the sales department and the marketing department report to different executives.

Many of the arguments that break out on LinkedIn are really about this contrast of marketing as a concept in which every part of the company has some responsibility verses marketing as a department, which typically has responsibility for a few discreet pieces of the marketing mix. Typically one of the great divides is the sales/marketing debate. By the classic 4Ps definition, sales is part of “promotion” so it is part of the marketing mix. Yet in many companies, sales is a separate department from marketing and reports to a different executive. In those situations where the functions are combined in one department, the leader is more often than not a sales executive and the marketing function plays a subservient role to sales. So again marketing (the department) is far different than marketing (the concept).

I am working with a client (a professional services firm) helping to improve sales support activities. In the early conversations, we were getting bogged down in what is marketing, branding, sales, sales promotion, sales support, etc.. Rather than spending a lot of time and energy trying to get to accepted definitions for each of these, I suggested we just focus on specific activities and how those activities could be improved. By putting the focus on activities, and not departments and definitions, we identified a few areas to document the current state and to make recommendations for improvements.

Next time you find yourself getting sucked into the quagmire of a marketing discussion, ask the qualifying question: Are we talking about marketing (the concept) or marketing (the department)?

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