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What is the purpose of marketing? (updated for 2021)

We can all agree that marketing is needed for... something. Still, many of us are scratching our heads about what that "something" is. All we know is that we can feel in our gut that something is broken.

What is the purpose of marketing? (updated for 2021) Blog Feature

Liz Moorehead

Editorial Director, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

November 18th, 2020 min read

Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2012. Let's be honest, a lot has changed since then. To that end, this article has been updated substantially in 2020 to reflect new realities, trends, and best practices all digital marketers need to know. 

I feel bad for marketers.

I'm not just saying that because I am a marketer of almost 10 years myself, although I do have a reputation for being a touch dramatic. Rather, I mention this because all of us whose careers fall under the marketing umbrella have been in the throes of a serious identity crisis — constantly having to justify to others we work with who we are, what we do, and why we're valuable — and we've been doing it for decades

Of course, we have to be willing to admit that the confusion of others is valid. We've experienced significant changes in the purpose of marketing and what we do. In fact, those changes have accelerated at a break-neck pace in the past 10 years (thanks, internet!), as well as in just the past 10 months, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic

Now, as we look ahead to 2021, everyone is stressed out over the role of marketing, and what it's supposed to look like.

We're all stressed for different reasons...

Business leaders are stressed because the future of their business and (in some cases) their ability to simply survive the current coronavirus-induced economic turbulence depends on successful marketing. But they're not even sure what their marketing is even supposed to be doing for them right now.

Marketing department heads are no stranger to feeling misunderstood or having to constantly prove their worth, but they, too, are trying to right the ship. They love their team and believe in the work they're doing, but they don't want to have to make tough, reactive decisions just because they don't have the answers their bosses are looking for. Plus, given how much has changed, they aren't sure they're still pointed in the right direction.

Then there are the wildly talented, multi-dimensional digital marketing worker bees — your marketing managers, coordinators, specialists, and strategists. They just want to understand what people want from them, what success looks like, and a clear understanding of how they're supposed to be working with and supporting other members of their company.

They're stressed and confused, because "mommy and daddy are fighting" and they don't know if it's their fault. Moreover, they're tired of their work and their wins being labeled as fluffy or hollow. 

...but we all have the same questions

Whether you're a business leader, a marketing department head like me, or a digital marketer or content specialist putting in the hard work on the front lines to move strategies forward, take some comfort in the fact that many of us are in the same boat.

Moreover, even though we're all in different seats, we essentially all have the same questions:

  1. What is the purpose of marketing? 
  2. How should marketing be working with other teams or departments?
  3. How can we tell if marketing is doing their job well?
  4. Finally, if we're doing it wrong, how do we get on the right track?

Basically, we can all agree that marketing is needed for... something. But it's clear from these questions that many of us have been scratching our heads for some time about what that "something" is. We can feel in our gut that something is broken.

Some of us are still clinging to outdated, antiquated ideas that marketing is in the business of building brand awareness or crafting show-stopping ad copy for campaigns.

Others of us, however, have evolved with the times, but still find ourselves floundering, unable to get traction or buy-in from our peers, colleagues, and other leaders in our companies.

So, my goal today is simple — to align all of these "warring marketing factions" around answers we can all agree upon, so we can go into 2021 understanding the role of marketing, and how we should all be working together to achieve our goals.

1. What is the purpose of marketing?

OK, while I thumbed my nose a little at the concepts of "building brand awareness" and copywriting in the previous sections, I want to state for the record that those are marketing activities that I believe are still very useful to this day. In fact, they're absolutely mission-critical for virtually every business, right?

But here's the rub, folks. Things like building brand awareness, copywriting, or heck, even email marketing, social media, and so on... those are all tactics used to achieve a purpose. None of them are the purpose of marketing. 

You see, the true purpose of marketing is actually something even more simple.

The purpose of marketing is to generate revenue for a brand, company, or organization. Marketing professionals and teams achieve this through the execution of strategic digital activities that drive traffic, qualified leads, and sales, in direct collaboration with their sales team.

I can hear some of you now...

"Wait, sales? What does sales have to do with our digital marketing strategy?"

I'm so glad you asked, because that leads us to our next question.

2. How should marketing be working with other teams or departments?

There's a reason why "sales and marketing alignment" is such a commonly searched phrase. Fun fact, sales and marketing actually share the exact same purpose, which is to drive revenue growth for their company. However, all too often, they're found completely at odds with each other.

Sales thinks marketing is too busy chasing nebulous goals that aren't rooted in the "right here, right now" reality of needing to bring new business through the door. On the other hand, marketing will often look to sales as money-obsessed goal-chasers who don't understand that true growth and success for a business is a marathon, not a sprint. 

In both cases, however, neither team realizes that while they achieve their goals through their own means, tactics, and activities, they still share that purpose of revenue. So, how do you solve for this?

You form what we call a revenue team.

Liz What Is Rev [v3]

Watch: What is a revenue team?

A revenue team meets weekly and is made of key players from your sales and marketing teams. All activities, regardless of individual roles, will be centered around the shared goal of increasing company revenue. Based on the most pressing questions of their ideal buyers, this team will develop and execute a strategy of content to be used in the sales process that will increase close rates. 

Through brainstorms with your sales team, you will develop the precise content strategy you need to help your sales team close more deals faster, while also driving qualified traffic and leads for your company overall. 

🔎 Related resources:

Standing up and running a revenue team at your company is a significant cultural shift that will require your people to do stop doing things the way they've always been done. 

I can speak from first-hand experience that going with the revenue team model will initially hurt as you make changes, talk openly about problems, and build out processes "while the boat is already on the water," so to speak. However, I also look back on all of the hard work we've done at IMPACT to make our revenue team work with amazement, pride, and total buy-in to the value of what we've done.

Prior to our revenue team forming, our sales team felt that the vast majority of what we published was complete fluff on the content side. And on the marketing side of the coin (where I sit as our editorial director), I didn't feel as if what we were working on had as tangible and direct impact on our bottom line numbers.

Now, the sales team loves the content we're creating, and they regularly offer up how our brainstorms are some of their favorite and most productive meetings they have. And we marketers can see a direct line between the work we're doing and the money that's walking through the door.

So yes, a revenue team is a lot of work, but it's so worth the effort.

3. How can we tell if marketing is doing their job well or not?

Well, I'm going to answer this from the perspective of marketing uniting with sales to form that crazy valuable revenue team. Measuring the success of your efforts against the (shared) purpose of revenue, here's what you're looking for:

Alignment

  1. Sales and marketing teams are fully aligned, trust each other, and have mutual respect. They have an open line of communication, meeting at least once a week.
  2. Sales understands and sees the value of their role in creating content that drives qualified traffic, leads, and sales. 
  3. Salespeople are more fulfilled and happier in their roles. 
  4. Marketers see more value in their work, taking pride in the direct connection between what they produce and the revenue generated for their company.

Content creation

  1. The sales team heavily influences the editorial calendar, as well as the priority of which content gets produced and when.
  2. The content being created by your company attracts better, more qualified prospects and customers.
  3. You are creating content for buyers already in the sales process, not just for attracting new visitors and leads. 

Impact on sales

  1. You can see the content being created used during the sales process, both video and written.
  2. When you review your ROI reporting, you see content being leveraged regularly to close deals by reviewing the contact records in your CRM. 
  3. Your sales team is able to close more deals faster, because the content you're creating is empowering them to educate their buyers faster and spend less time with bad-fit prospects.
  4. Sales knows how much revenue this content is creating.

4. Finally, if we're doing it wrong, how do we get on the right track?

If you're reading this and shaking your head wondering if you're on the right track, I can tell you right away that you aren't. You should be able to tell how well your efforts are driving revenue for your company in a quantifiable way, where you can prove with numbers and reporting the ROI of what you're doing in marketing.

If you can't do that, you've got a problem. So, your first step is to create a robust reporting strategy for ROI that includes marketing and sales automation platforms that talk to each other. 

Also, if you're not talking to sales, you've got a problem. If that's you, you also need to set up content brainstorms with your sales team on a biweekly basis (at the very least), and start there.

You should, ultimately, work toward a full revenue team at your company, but starting with a simple sales team brainstorm that is always on your calendar on a recurring basis is a great and simple way to start, that will have an immediate impact on the efficacy of your marketing.

If you have a revenue team in place, but something just... feels off, there may be a few root causes you want to examine:

  • You think sales and marketing alignment is an item on a checklist that can ever be checked off or 100% completed. 
  • The people on your revenue team aren't fully bought into the idea that there are actual benefits to the work being done on the revenue team.
  • You're not reporting on the right metrics that will definitively show the success of the work the revenue team is doing.
  • There is no feedback loop in place, so that sales can report back on the effectiveness of the content they've requested and has been produced.

Only you can know which of these is the culprit in your given situation. But IMPACT Digital Sales and Marketing Coach Will Schultz always recommends kicking off your revenue team meetings with the same question:

“What should we be doing differently to be a more effective and permanent revenue team?”

That way you can surface and address problems before they become irreparable, and/or discover the true root causes behind those "something feels off" gremlins lurking in your brain. 

We're all on the same team now

IMPACT Digital Sales and Marketing Coach Chris Marr put it best when he said: 

"Giving [revenue growth] responsibility to the sales team alone doesn’t make sense. By the time prospects have gotten in touch with them, the majority of the decision has already been made. And, perhaps more pertinent are the prospects who never got in touch and went elsewhere, if they didn’t find the information they needed during the research phase.

But, equally, sole responsibility for sales and revenue cannot be given to the marketing team.

One of the main challenges the sales team face is that they need 'better quality leads,' with only around 27% of leads passed from marketing to sales deemed to be qualified. This isn’t because the marketing team is rubbish at their job. It’s because they are working with an incomplete picture.

If your sales and marketing team are disconnected, then it will be dramatically more difficult for your marketing team to attract relevant and qualified leads."

The reality is that while it's easy to sit here and wallow, believing that it's only us marketing folks who are downwind of a bunch of changes, that couldn't be further than the truth. Our friends in sales feel the same way.

But if you take one thing away from this article let it be this — we're not alone. Our sales counterparts not only feel the same way, we can also help each other overcome the challenges we're all facing, thanks to advancements in technology and buying behavior. 

And, if we put aside our differences — with a willingness to look ahead and away from the status quo of our outdated processes, team structures, and procedures — we'll be able to reach our goals together much, much faster. 

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