What exactly is “marketing?” It’s a loaded question with an equally loaded answer.
A google search will lead you to an endless onslaught of explanations about promotions, tone, ad spend, and even more industry-specific terminology that will only make your head spin. The truth is, understanding marketing isn’t that complicated. In fact, each of us ‘market’ our way through every day.
Marketing is the building of relationships between a business and a consumer.
Our lives are literally built on relationships, and those relationships extend to the brands we allow into our lives. Anthropologists, psychologists, and behaviorists often look at relationships in 5 stages. If we look at those stages and compare them to the steps marketers take in their process, we can confidently answer the age-old question; what is marketing?
1. Marketing is an Initiation
You frequent a local cafe most mornings and you notice another patron holding the same book you’re currently reading. You politely engage that individual, ask how they like the book, talk about your order, find out you both have dogs close to the same age, and exchange information to be contacted at a later date for a doggy play date.
Congratulations, you’ve made it through the initiation stage of a new relationship!
Obviously, for marketers, this stage looks a little different. Initiation is a “first look,” the first impression you as a brand get to make to the consumer. This is a great opportunity to consider your business’s elevator pitch. That pitch can be used to create a broader and more complex marketing strategy to better target your ideal consumers.
Since your company can’t go out to a coffee shop and find customers that might be interested in the services or products you provide, it’ll have to opt for the next best thing; demographic data metrics. This information lets you know who is more likely to engage with your brand so that you can make sure you’re only initiating with consumers who are likely to purchase from you.
Marketing can then utilize a number of different platforms and resources to initiate that first conversation with a potential consumer. This information lets you know what affinity interests your consumers have, what social media channels they are likely to be active on, whether they browse on a desktop, tablet, or their phone.
(You can learn more about aggregating audience demographic data in our 2020 Social Media Guide: Here)
2. Marketing is Experimentation
So you’re at the dog park with your new acquaintance. After some small talk, you come to find out that you both have the same favorite band and top 3 favorite movies. It’s a perfect match.
Just like relationships, in marketing, you sometimes have to start small and be patient with interactions. The Experimentation stage allows you to get to know the other person, or consumer a bit better.
For relationships, this information usually comes as discovering common interests, finding out things the other person doesn’t like, and maybe finding the faults in ourselves that can be potentially problematic for the other person.
For marketing, we’re testing to see what people engage with. This can be any number of things, from a blog to a social post, or even a downloadable how-to guide. Social media is perhaps the most obvious format in which we see this play out, although any source that provides data and analytics will provide similar information. The more likes, comments, shares, etc. a post gets, the more a business can learn about the content their audiences enjoy seeing. If an audience likes your content, they are likely to seek you out to engage with your content again. That’s what separates this stage from the initiation stage.
A fundamental idea in marketing is that we want this relationship to grow! The information marketers learn in the experiment stage is invaluable and will be used in nearly every stage moving forward. Since brands develop relationships with a lot of different people, it’s important to revisit this stage from time to time to make sure you are still driving growth. Just like in our own relationships, the needs and wants of your audience is likely to change over time, so it’s imperative that marketers update research and findings to keep the relationship positive.
3. Marketing is Investment
After returning from your day at the dog park you and your new friend are texting…a lot. You’re calling each other on the phone on your drives home, they might come over most evenings to share a meal, and they might have even met your close friends..even family! It’s clear this thing you have with this person you met at the coffee shop is a little bit more than friendship.
This investment is the turning point in the relationship between consumers and your business. Up to this point, other than a few engagement interactions, the relationship has been led predominantly by marketing. This is the stage in which the consumer begins to play a bigger role in the conversation. Perhaps they are visiting your website and not just your social profile. They might have even subscribed to your email list or put some items in their online shopping cart.
The role of the marketer in this stage is to allow the consumer to approach them and give them a little something in return for their efforts. Up until now, the marketers have been creating content and campaigns to support the consumer through the sales cycle. Now, it’s time for consumers to take the intended action. This might come as a sign up for your business’s newsletter, filling out a contact form for a piece of downloadable content, or even directly reaching out to your business for more information.
By doing this, the audience member has now opened lines of communication and invested in the relationship with your brand. If the marketer is doing their job right, they will have created nurture materials to keep the investment stage a positive one and to make sure the relationship keeps moving forward.
4. Marketing is Integration
Don’t worry, the generally accepted timeline for marketing relationships compared to human relationships absolutely differs. It might take years of building for someone to fully commit to a relationship, but with marketing, it’s a little more precise.
On average, it takes about 7 touches with your brand before a consumer will consider converting. Here, touch is very similar to an impression in that it’s the presentation of your business to the audience in one form or another. During the first 3 stages, marketers are carrying out actions to increase those impressions. As was stated previously, landing pages, email campaigns and social media posts are all ways in which marketers begin facilitating those 7 touchpoints.
This integration stage is an opportunity to surpass consumer expectations and create an experience that delights. Much like a marriage, the integration stage is a time for celebrating the culmination of hard work paid off. Marketers are looking for conversion at this stage. By now the consumers have developed a full relationship with your brand, and it’s time that they commit fully. Whether that means they purchase an item, donate money, sign a petition, request a quote or whatever a conversion means for your business, it’s at this stage that we see the consumer following through with the intended action by the marketers.
5. Marketing is Bonding
As Smash Mouth famously said, “the years start coming and they don’t stop coming.” Flash forward and you find yourself at a company party with your partner by your side. You have been introduced around and met with many “We’ve heard so much about you” and “So nice to finally meet you.” It looks like your partner has been putting in a good word about you to their colleagues.
You’ve got a committed customer relationship. Now what?
Remember that your relationship with your consumer is based on your ability to provide some perceived values to them, whether it be thought leadership, entertainment, or your actual product. That provision should continue even after the customer has committed. Another important point of this bond stage is that as you keep nurturing the relationship you have with that consumer, you also begin building trust for them to consider you for a recommendation to other potential consumers.
Word of Mouth (WOM) recommendations are some of the most effective means of advertising that exists. In the most recent data from Nielson, they state that 92% of consumers are more likely to believe friends and family over advertising. Once you’re in that committed relationship, the door is now open to build more of those relationships with consumers who think and act similarly to each other. In this stage, marketers need to pay special attention to the maintenance of their customers. Only in that way can they expect to reap the benefits of WOM marketing.
What is Marketing? Answer: Marketing is Building and Maintaining Relationships
Relationships fuel our entire world, even the ones we have with our favorite brand and products. When we build better, more positive relationships with consumers, we can begin to build better more positive relationships with each other.
Bringing humanity back to marketing has a number of benefits, including setting you apart from your competitors and creating brand loyalty. If you approach marketing the same way you would as if you were beginning a new relationship, you are more likely to drive the results you are aiming for, while also providing lasting value to people who use your product. Now that’s what we call a match made in heaven.