When I was hired for my first marketing job, I had no idea what marketing was all about. As an engineer, I'd worked with marketers but it always seemed to me that they didn't do all that much. So I took the job (at a 30% pay increase) thinking, hey, how difficult could it be?

Within a month of reporting for work, I discovered I was totally lost. Fortunately, my new boss was an old Procter and Gamble guy--think Don Draper but twenty years older--who took me under his wing.

He explained that I was over-thinking the problem and then told me something that I never forgot, sort of. He said: "Geoffrey, marketing is doing everything that makes buying easier."

This pithy definition impressed me so much that the next time I gave a presentation, I put it on the first slide: "Marketing is doing everything that makes selling easier."

When I clicked to this slide in my next presentation, my boss, who was sitting in the back of the room, visibly winced. I knew I'd done something wrong and if you've been reading carefully, you know what it was.

After the presentation my boss took me aside and made the correction: "makes BUYING easier" not "makes SELLING easier."

At the time, I thought this was a bit of a quibble but I now realize that he was revealing an essential truth: that marketing is all about buying and only peripherally about selling.

Thinking about marketing as something that "makes selling easier" forces you to focus on yourself, your company, your products, your channels and your salespeople. Indeed, such strategies usually answer questions like:

  • Do I push this product through channels?
  • Should I go directly to retail?
  • Will I sell more if I lower the wholesale price?
  • How much should I charge for online sales?
  • Which competitors can undercut my price?

Asking these questions when you're determining market strategy is like asking a GPS for directions before you've decided where you want to go. It's thus not surprising that companies with selling-based market strategies often end up places where there aren't any customers.

Contrariwise, thinking of a market strategy as something that "makes buying easier" forces you to start with the customer and build backwards based upon the expected and possible behavior of that customer.

The best and easiest way to create this sort of market strategy is to use the "who what where why when how" formula that you learn in school, like so:

  1. Who are your customers?
  2. What do they want?
  3. Where do they shop?
  4. Why do they buy this rather than that?
  5. When do they buy?
  6. How do they buy?

Once you've answered these questions, you build your market strategy and tactics to match.

For example, over the past few months I've written quite a bit about email marketing. When marketers actually do think those questions through, they pick the right places to advertise, the right ways to package, the right way to describe the product, and so forth. The "make selling easier" questions then take care of themselves.