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The Deeper Role Of Marketing



Having spent much of my career as a marketing professional in a marketing driven company, Hallmark Cards, and having spent many of those years in a division entitled Product Discovery & Development, I understand that the primary value of marketing is to discover unmet customer needs and to develop products, services and experiences to meet those needs.

At Hallmark, we used an elaborate process to identify and qualify new business opportunities. It all started with ideas/concepts and marketing research. Our environmental scanning manager identified emerging societal trends. We explored the needs and desires of various market segments – the mature market, men, teenagers, etc. We conducted ideation sessions, tested concepts, conducted depth interviews that included laddering exercises, conducted focus groups, performed volumetric forecasting based on a normative database of previously tested concepts, conducted attitude and usage studies, held product co-creation sessions with consumers, performed ethnographic research and test marketed the more promising ideas. We sometimes used conjoint analysis to refine a product concept, building the optimal mix of functions and features into the product.

I remember research in which we gave hundreds of teenagers cameras and told them to take pictures of whatever they wanted. We learned a lot from that. I remember focus groups with the mature market in which we discovered the big opportunity was tapping into the grandparent/grandchild relationship. And I remember the “aha moment” when we discovered the power of giving services and experiences as gifts. We explored the power of personalization, which led to our Image Gallery joint venture with Kodak. Our attitude and usage study of various Hispanic and Latino markets led to the development of Primor, our Spanish language line of products. And our research of the male market led to the development of a relationship concierge service.

I contrast this understanding of the power of marketing and marketing research with companies that are not marketing driven. Their R&D departments create products and then ask their marketing departments to develop brochures or catalogs to sell those products. Sometimes they ask for help in product naming, product packaging and product positioning. Sometimes they ask for help in pricing those products. And sometimes they ask for help in finding markets for those products. This is all after the fact. Marketing becomes a support group for products that may or may not have markets and that may or may not be configured properly. Product launches fail at a much higher rate in these companies.

Product development is much like brand development. Both should start with a solid understanding of the customer and her hopes, fears, values, attitudes, needs and desires. And both will only be successful if they are tested to address strong customer needs and fill large marketplace gaps. And both must be designed and positioned to maximize their appeal and longevity. This is upfront strategic work, not after-the-fact tactical support.

In what type of company are you working? One that understands marketing and marketing research as a strategic advantage or one that uses marketing as a tactical support function? Not only is the first type of company much more interesting for marketing people but it is also much more likely to be successful and profitable with a bright future.

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1 Comment

Hilton Barbour
Twitter: ZimHilton
on March 13th, 2014 said

An eloquent articulation of the very best way to really leverage marketing and marketing research.

The old Ogilvy adage springs to mind;
“Too many companies use research like a drunk uses a lamp-post. For support versus illumination”

Great post.

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