In all of the years that we've worked with countless companies and marketers - we've heard just as many different and colourful definitions, theories and approaches to marketing.
There are companies that take their marketing function very seriously, and others that consider marketing a luxury, nice-to-have item that can be turned on- and off- as the business cycles through the highs- and lows of the predictable growth curve.
The extent of the implementation of the marketing function has become a phenomenon largely dependant on the subjective worldview and preferences of the person who approves the annual budget allocations.
The future financial prospects of that business are then literally held hostage by the bounded rationality of just one person in many cases.
Strategically then, in most businesses, no other function holds as much potential upside than a shift in the paradigms related to marketing.
In its most simplistic form, a business functions by producing something of value which is then exchanged for money / a profit by willing customers in a marketplace.
Without a critical mass of customers who see value in what is being sold and are willing to pay the right price for that value - you don't have a business.
To build up this critical mass, what's needed is a connection with those customers...a relationship needs to be developed between the business and the right people in the marketplace.
What then is marketing?
Marketing is the work done by, and on behalf of, an organisation, which is intended to strengthen the many individual relationships between the business and its customers and potential customers.
Marketing is the ongoing mix of activities that are intended to initiate and improve 'the relationships' with selected individuals outside of a business.
It's an ongoing activity because relationships are dynamic, never static, and need to constantly be tended to and nurtured.
Marketing is not a nice-to-have, it's an essential-to-have.
It's not enough to just have a good product...everyone has a good product. It's not enough to be on the shelf in a busy supermarket...everyone else is on the same shelf in the same supermarket.
Without good marketing you will struggle to access a better future for a business.
What is a brand?
A brand is the subjective perception of value that is held in the minds of individual and collective marketplace actors (customers / non-customers / curious onlookers) of a firm and its offerings.
A brand is 'an idea', a mental subjective construct held in the minds of people.
It's intangible, is owned by people outside of the business, beyond the direct control of a business, but can be influenced and directed through good marketing practices.
Again, designing and building a brand isn't just a nice thing to have. Without your brand occupying some kind of real estate in the minds of the right people - you don't exist as a business.
What is good marketing?
Clearly every business then that has an intention to develop and grow in the future needs to have a professional, informed and constructive focus on marketing and brand building.
In reality though most marketing work is of a very poor quality; money is wasted, opportunity squandered.
Just like growing an intimate romantic relationship where you can't just go through the motions and expect what will pop out on the other side is a strong bond with somebody; similarly not all marketing efforts should be considered equal in quality.
There is average marketing (most of the marketing work that you see in the marketplace where the relationship with customers borders on what could be classified as abusive) and then there is good marketing (those rare instances where customers are so overcome with joy and appreciation for a brand that they tell the people that they love to go and get some joy of their own too).
Marketing strategy isn't something that gets handed to juniors, amateurs, people who lack a basic understanding of complexity theory, people in the USA who give advice on Youtube and have f*k all understanding of the local context into which you are aiming to build your business.
The guy who built the Nike brand in America in the 1980s has zero understanding of how to build relationships with middle-class South Africans in 2023, so read his book brimming with marketing success stories as a work of fiction, rather than a recipe.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, no silver bullets, no simple solutions to these complex challenges.
Relationship building is not like assembling a car - it is not something you can effectively do by following some standard steps that are not unique to your particular circumstances; good marketing strategy is nuanced and completely contextually dependent.
Get it right and you build a powerful asset of value that will generate above average margins and a reputational fly-wheel that over time makes whatever you do spend on marketing far more impactful and efficient.
Ultimately marketing shouldn't be the sole job and responsibility of one person or one department - it's a function that every person, every department, in the business touches. If done well - it's tends to be because it's the core focus of everyone.
The opportunity lies in how marketing is framed.
In our experience many unconscious mental barriers exist in organisations that hold the real impact that good marketing could be creating, back.
Purposefully go about shifting the marketing paradigm in this way and you begin to unleash its power.