Marketing Messages

Most business owners understand, at least conceptually, that when a market or economy turns south, marketing should remain a priority. But when revenue falls short of budget, it’s the hefty marketing line items that suddenly look like the easiest target for cutting your way to profitability.

Many marine businesses are surely in the throes of year-end projections. But before you start slashing the low-hanging line items like marketing, consider for a moment how you and your company define that term.

Believe it or not, this is a hotly debated topic, culminating with the American Marketing Association’s approval of a new definition last fall: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” If your definition is limited to advertising in the newspaper or in the Yellow Book, your strategy is even older than the AMA definition that stood for 50 years.

Marketing, astute business owners know, is much more than traditional advertising. In fact, as Michael E. Gerber explained in his book, “The E-Myth Revisited,” marketing is everything you do. It’s the message you send with your attitude. With your employees’ attitudes. It’s how you present your company, your logo, your products, your business partners’ products. It’s how you follow through on the promise you make your customers.

Delivering on that promise takes much more than some advertising and a Web site, though. It takes an understanding throughout your organization that, as Gerber puts it, “there isn’t a function or position within the company that is free of asking marketing questions, if by marketing we mean, ‘What must our business be in the mind of our customers in order for them to choose us over everyone else?’ ”

Much of the debate surrounding the AMA’s decision to approve this new definition of marketing, which purportedly will be taught in universities nationwide, was that it removed the reference to satisfying organizational goals.

I don’t claim to be an expert on marketing, but I agree with the critics here. I believe that our marketing, above and beyond the
advertising and other communications we commonly associate with the term, is defined by the presentation of our employees, the
conversations we have with our business partners, the way we take care of our customers, and the values we visibly uphold through every function of our business processes.

Those are things that don’t require a financial review — they can’t be cut from a budget. But they’re intricately woven into the fabric of everything we do. They’re critically important, and done right, the foundation of your marketing plan will stand the test of time in any economic situation.

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