A few years ago, the AV-P, product development in the company where I worked, explained the role of his marketing colleagues to newly recruited employees: “Once we’ve developed the product specs, we let our marketing colleagues make them look nice.” He repeated this statement twice. As horrified as I was when I heard this, I took some cold comfort in the fact that the AV-P’s comment showed a marginally improved understanding of marketing’s role than one of his colleagues, a Senior V-P. The SV-P questioned the need for the development of marketing collateral material or any marketing communications plan to support a soon-to-be launched product. His view was that all the information the prospective client needed was in the mutual fund prospectus!
True it is that both V-Ps were actuaries, members of a profession not reputed to have any great understanding of marketing and the role it ought to play in business success. However, marketing communications professionals must share much of the blame for being perceived as the people who “put the lipstick on the pig.”
Marcomms professionals very often accept that it is par for the course for them to be brought in at the very end of the product development cycle to deliver a marketing plan under tight deadlines for the product launch. At this point, marketing strategies are developed under very hurried circumstances and with limited information and understanding of the product and the clients whose needs are to be met. This explains in large part, why marketing communications campaigns are perceived in many organizations as wasted effort without any proven ROI.
From my own experience and observation, marketing professionals have not done a good job of demonstrating the value they can bring to the product development process. This is particularly true in organizations where product development requires specific technical skills (e.g. actuarial sciences, risk assessment, engineering). The development of effective marketing strategies and supporting communications plans requires a deep understanding of the competitive environment, the needs and characteristics of target clients, and the connections between corporate, business and marketing strategies of the organization. The integration of this information contributes to the development of product and service solutions with attributes that are relevant, important and are valued by the potential client. By being involved in the product development process, marketing professionals should be well placed to match product attributes and benefits to known customer needs, develop value propositions, articulate key messages, determine appropriate media channels to reach out to target client groups. These are essential building blocks in defining the marketing communications strategy and implementation plan that create engagement and predisposition to purchase.
All of this requires marketing professionals to go beyond the limits of creative copy writing skills and the know-how to apply brand guidelines – as important as these skills are – and embrace adjacent skills and knowledge including market research, data analytics, strategic planning, product knowledge and business acumen.
Armed with these skills, marketing professionals will likely gain credibility among their peers in the product development and corporate functions. It is up to marketers to promote the need for their early presence and involvement in the product development and strategic planning processes. Chances are that the CEO and executive leadership are not trained in marketing and much work needs to be done to educate and influence them on the critical role marketing must play in business success.
In my experience, being able to speak the same language as the CEO, CFO and SMEs has been effective in helping marketing gain in-roads to actively participate in strategic planning meetings and in product development working sessions.
- In one case, using financial data and brand awareness metrics to demonstrate the eventual, adverse impact on revenues resulting from poorly funded advertising and marketing programmes, convinced the CFO that his team had to include Marketing in its strategic planning meetings.
- In another case, the presentation of data on emerging market demand halted the launch of a new product, so that market research could be done to validate client profiles and test value propositions. The resulting information was used jointly by Product Development and Marketing Communications teams to adjust product specs in line with client needs.
In both cases better marketing communication strategies were developed and implemented with the right key messages, media channels and on-going engagement tactics. The resulting brand awareness and product satisfaction scores were favourable.
The following quote from management guru Peter Drucker sums up the role of marketing in business and the need for collaboration in the product development process:
“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.