Last updated: Modern marketing: The fundamentals have changed – have you?

Modern marketing: The fundamentals have changed – have you?


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There’s been quite a bit of dialogue in the marketing world lately about the value of formal training and education, especially when it comes to marketing after COVID, yet it appears that many in the field don’t understand the modern definition of marketing and the fundamentals that surround it.

And regardless of whether you think a degree or some sort of higher education is a prerequisite for really calling yourself a professional or whether you believe qualified marketers can be more informally educated, one thing is clear:

Marketers need to understand and be able to apply the fundamentals in order to be successful. 

There’s no question that there is a dearth of these skills across the profession thanks to the fact that anyone with an internet connection and a social media account can call themselves a “marketer” these days.

So whether you learn these concepts via a degree program or a more informal education path, it’s critical to have a working knowledge of what modern marketing is, and what makes marketing—and business — work.

The definition of marketing and the merits of marketing fundamentals

Marketing is not simply a collection of tactics. 

In fact, most of what you see defined as “marketing” today is the last mile of execution, all the tools and channels and mechanics. Or worse yet, marketing is simply reduced to advertising.

At its core however, marketing is—by definition—about moving goods and services from the source of tools, channels, and mechanics to the consumer of those things (the client or customer). That’s the market

That means professionals need to understand the definition of modern marketing and the market itself: the consumer populations within it, the forces that influence it, the opportunities and challenges that it presents to the business.

And marketing strategy needs to come before anything else.

That requires understanding core principles like:

  1. Market orientation, or fundamentally understanding who you’re marketing to and what they care about and how to find the right segments and targets for your business. Read: Ries and Trout’s 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. 
  2. Positioning and understanding how you talk about your goods and services relative to the needs and wants of the market. Read: Ries and Trout’s Positioning.
  3. Pricing and the important leverage that creates for a business as part of its marketing strategy. Read: Confessions of the Pricing Man by Simon.
  4. Promotion and persuasion and the psychology of what drives people to care about brands. Read: Ogilvy on Advertising, Cialdini on Influence, and Sharp on How Brands Grow.
  5. Building strategic marketing organizations that are rooted in these principles. Read Kotler and Keller on Marketing Management or Kotler and Armstrong on Principles of Marketing.

And marketing must adapt over time as the markets themselves change, as new channels emerge, and as consumer behavior evolves. It’s also true that academic theory is different from how things often work in practice in real-world (and messy) organizations. 

But you need to know the rules before you can break them effectively. Your tactics need to be rooted in strategy. 

Otherwise they’re just busy work.

The critical business lens: Attributes of excellent marketers

Many marketers also get stuck within their own silo, worrying only about marketing activities and plans and lacking understanding about critical areas of the business that can dramatically impact their work.

If you’re a strong marketer, you’ll pay attention and get a basic understanding of several other disciplines across the business:

  • The product organizations that conceptualize, design and build the things you’re tasked with selling to the market
  • The finances of the business, namely how it makes money, what things impact that financial picture, and where marketing is hooked into that revenue and profit model
  • The sales organizations or disciplines that are tasked with getting people to buy stuff (especially critical in B2B)
  • The customer service organizations who interact with customers and understand both the challenges they have and the things they love

Businesses are systems. There are multiple interdependent parts that all have to work together in order for it to be viable and sustainable.

The more you understand about the entire engine of the business, the better you can grasp marketing’s role in its success and design a strategy—as well as a plan to measure your impact—that works within it and helps it grow.

Learning is a verb, and modern marketers must learn the definition of marketing for the digital era

Some of the most intelligent and insightful marketers didn’t study marketing academically in school; they studied it in practice. Many only found marketing as a career somewhere along their winding professional path rather than something they’d identified as their future when they were 18 years old and starting college. Many more couldn’t afford college at all.

Some who have completed higher education in marketing never bother to pick up another book or further their own knowledge of our ever-evolving discipline. Some who have zero academic marketing background are hungry to learn, voraciously digesting everything they can get their hands on about marketing. They have a perpetual curiosity and a standard of excellence for themselves that’s progressive, not finite.

There is absolutely no question that a lack of marketing fundamentals and business acumen is a weakness in our discipline. 

But what’s really at issue is not how we learn things like strategy or foundational marketing principles or the factors influencing markets today, but whether we do. 

And each of us has the power to be better, to learn more, and to raise the bar for our own professional standards so we can be the best stewards and accelerators of our businesses that we can possibly be.

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