If you think marketing is all about B2B email, lead generation, social media, and advertising campaigns, then I seriously doubt if you'll make it in the business world. Savvy executives and business leaders get marketing. They know it's the key to business success.
Steve Jobs certainly did.
Sure, he was Apple's CEO, but more than anything, he was a consummate marketer. He understood that, more than anything, his job was to come up with products that people really wanted to use--even if they didn't know it themselves. He also knew that product developers live for that sort of thing.
Indeed, Bill Davidow, a legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist and former Intel executive said, "Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments." He should know. He wrote the seminal book on high-tech marketing.
David Packard, the iconic co-founder of Hewlett Packard, took an even broader view of the significance of marketing when he famously said, "Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department."
Marketing and business are synonymous. Some of the most powerful business strategies and concepts come from marketing. And they can be applied to any individual, product, or company. Here are seven from my experience in the high-tech industry.
You only need a focus group of one. If it's the right one. Crowdsourcing and collectivism may be popular these days, but business success is almost always the result of a simple idea by an individual or relatively small team. Apple's executives never used focus groups. They had themselves.
The power of positioning. In a competitive market, you either differentiate or die. Of the relatively few things you can actually control, positioning strategy comes second only to the product itself. How you position yourself, your products, your company, is perhaps the most powerful and underutilized tool for differentiating anything.
Control the message. In a world of information and communication overload, controlling the message--what you say and how you say it--is a lost art. If you can boil complex concepts down to simple messages and stories people can connect with, that makes all the difference. Not only does every word count, but so does how and when you say it.
The customer is and has always been king. That doesn't mean you just do what they want. It means that you need to understand your audience, your customer base, and focus on giving them an experience with your company, its products and services, and its people, that will delight them and keep them coming back for more. In a world where just about everyone is focused on themselves, that's how you stand apart.
You can't win without a defensible value proposition. If you can't articulate what you bring to the market that nobody else has or does better than you, you won't beat the competition. And that doesn't mean you can just BS. If it doesn't pass the smell test, if you can't say it with a straight face, if customers don't wholeheartedly agree that it's true, forget it.
Brands still win. Bob Pittman has run everything from MTV and Nickelodeon to Century 21 and Six Flags. While he was president and COO of AOL--back when that meant something--he said this: "Coca Cola does not win the taste test. Microsoft does not have the best operating system. Brands win." Microsoft may not have the cache it did back then, but you know what he meant. Some say branding is dead. Don't believe it. Nothing's changed.
Competitive markets are a zero sum game. It's a competitive world. It takes a lot to win. The equation that determines the success of your product, your company, even your career, has many variables. Business is all about how effectively you use and control those variables, many of which are described above. I guess there are other ways to win, but then, you're just making already tough odds a whole lot tougher.
This column originally appeared on Inc.com.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, former senior executive, columnist and author of the upcoming book, “Real Leaders Don’t Follow." Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting where he advises executives and business leaders on strategic matters. Contact Tobak.