There are few areas of business more misunderstood than marketing.  Unfortunately, much of this misunderstanding comes from myths that are largely promulgated by the marketers themselves.

Here are those myths, with the corresponding real-life truths.

1. 'Marketing Is Strategic'

Marketers often try to position what they do as strategic, in the sense of being "above the fray." Under this definition of marketing, marketers supposed to set the direction of the company, determine future product content, and supervise the sales function.

However, once the marketing function becomes "strategic," people stop looking too closely at whether marketing activity has an effect on revenue or profit.  As a result, "strategic" marketing groups often consume inordinate amounts of money on projects that are of marginal value--like brochures that nobody reads.

Smart companies treat marketing as a tactical activity that either generates sales leads or makes those sales leads easier to close.  They measure marketing based upon the number of sales that get made as a direct result of marketing activity.  That way, the marketing group can't hide in the "invisibility cloak" of being strategic.

  • Truth: Marketing should be tactical.

2. 'Marketing Drives Sales'

The concept here is that the sales group is simply part of an overall marketing strategy. Therefore, when customers buy, the marketing can justifiably take credit for the sale, regardless of whether the marketing group was directly involved. ("You made that big sale because we created 'brand awareness.'" Ahem.)

There are few things that kill motivation more than having other people run around taking credit for your own hard work.  This foolish myth about the role of marketing thus drives a  wedge between sales and marketing, making it impossible for the two groups to work together, except as adversaries.

By contrast, when the sales group works with the marketing group on practical issues (like finding truly qualified leads), both groups can fairly take credit for the leads that are thus generated.

  • Truth: Sales should drive marketing.

3. 'Marketing Should Focus on Selling '

In many companies, there's an implicit assumption that the marketing group can help the sales group by creating sales tools and providing advice on how the sales group should approach customers.

Unfortunately, most professional marketers have never sold anything--and therefore have little or no idea what actually goes on in a sales situation. In most cases, asking a marketer how to sell is like asking a celibate priest for advice about your sex life. You may hear some interesting theories, but chances are the actual advice will prove impractical.

The role that a marketing team can play--and, in fact, does play in the best companies--is locating and nurturing qualified leads, defined as "leads our current sales team can close." To make this happen, needless to say, sales and marketing first need to agree on the definition of a qualified lead.

  • Truth: Marketing should focus on lead generation.

4. 'Marketing Creates Brands'

Of all the marketing myths, this is probably the most pernicious. The concept is that marketing activities, like advertising, can somehow convince customers and prospective customers to view a product in a certain way.

That sometimes works when a product is launched--particularly if you're willing to spend a lot of money and if the intended customers isn't very sophisticated. But the rest of the time, it is always the customer's experience with the product that actually creates the brand.

Contrary to popular belief, your "brand" isn't your logo, tagline, and so forth.  Your "brand" consists of the emotions that customers feel when they think about your product. And while those emotions can sometimes be triggered by logos and so forth, they originate in the product experience.

  • Truth: Customer experience creates brands.

5. 'Marketing Should Define Future Products'

The idea here is that the marketing group supposedly has a handle on what customers want, as epitomized by a list of "market requirements."  However, in most cases, the marketing group does not have sufficient contact with customers to know what they want--either now or in the future.

This is not to say that the sales group knows any better, by the way: Most salespeople only know what their current accounts think they want in the future.

So who, then, should be responsible for future product design? That's simple: In most cases, it should be the product design or engineering group, who are usually much more in sync with what's going on the real world, and moreover have a sense of what's possible and practical to build. Marketing can put its two cents in, but in the end, it's going to be the engineers who make the real decisions anyway.

  • Truth: Engineering should define future products.

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