Success or failure: why it really matters that marketing is NOT just about promotion

When many people say the word “marketing” or even sell “marketing” services, what they actually mean is “promotion” – using tools like advertising, websites or glossy brochures.


“No amount of promotion is likely to have any impact if you’re doing the wrong things, the wrong way, for the wrong people”

Marketing has become synonymous with promotion, to the point where the word marketing has seemingly lost its true meaning and value.

People claim to want to “market” their business and others will happily sell “digital marketing”, “content marketing”, “email marketing” and alike – when by and large what they’re selling are promotional tools or services.

It’s not just a matter of being overly pedantic about words – as no amount of promotion is likely to have any impact if you’re doing the wrong things, the wrong way, for the wrong people – it’s a matter of business success or failure.

This fact is even taught in secondary schools – my own GCSE course in Business Studies identified that at the heart of marketing were the four Ps of the marketing mix – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. In order for a business to be successful, it must get all these elements in order, with promotion being the last thing to think about!

The Chartered Institute of Marketing has further developed the Ps of the marketing mix, now claiming there to be 7: Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process and Physical Evidence. Furthermore, their preferred definition of marketing is:

“ The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

You don’t identify, anticipate or satisfy customer requirements through promotion. So if promotion is the limit of your marketing consideration, you’re at great risk of coming up with a product or service idea that you think people will want, then gambling a whole load of money on promotional activities in the hope that they’ll buy it.

It really is little more than gambling. That may be fine if you’re a lone entrepreneur with money to lose, but when your staff are relying on you to pay their mortgages and feed their families, the risks of this folly become somewhat harder to ignore.

If you want your business to be a success, without that success being a massive gamble, it’s vital to step away from promotion unless the other elements of the marketing mix are in place.

Marketing considered and performed properly will help you offer the right products, the right way, to the right people, at the right time, place and price. Plus, it will help to ensure that when you do consider promotion, you’re targeting the right people and reaching them via the most efficient means available to you.

Knowing the difference between marketing and mere promotion really can be the difference between success or failure.

Retailers, please stop bluntly asking for my email address at the till

The other day I placed a roll of sticky tape on the check-out desk of Office Outlet and prepared to hover my debit card over the contactless payment machine.

“Can I have your email address?” asked the member of staff.

“No, thank you.” I said as politely as possible, when it sounds impolite. I wonder how many people submit to this trick, dishing out an email address – perhaps not a real one – instead of risking possible impoliteness or awkwardness?

It’s no longer safe to buy even simple things like sticky tape, birthday cards, socks or gloves without being asked, often bluntly, for an email address.

Some have a slightly different tactic: “Can I have your email address to send your receipt?”. Because I might lose the printed receipt, but won’t lose the email one in a sea of promotional emails?

The reason these retailers want an email address is quite obvious – it’s a direct link to try and persuade us to part with more money, with the potential to enable them to profile us and target things at us accordingly. All great for them, but the reason to actually let them have it is less clear, particularly when they don’t even give a reason, they just ask for it.

I dare say that if I asked “why”, I’d probably be told “so we can send you special offers”. But that’s just not reason enough for me.

Is it really useful for me to have every retailer I’ve ever bought something from sending me emails? Do I really want to have to wade through all these offers in amongst the emails I really do want to read? Will any amount of offers make me return to buy more sticky tape before this roll has run out?

Clearly, there are going to be times when some people will value such emails. But this blanket and often blunt approach seems lazy and actually unhelpful to both parties. What’s the point of a load of fake email addresses or unread emails for the retailer – and what’s the point of an inbox load of sales spam for many people?

It’s also a worry now we’re so close to the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Near obliging people (saying “no” feels awkward) to hand over an email address at the till without any reason why doesn’t appear to conform to the regulation’s rule on consent:

“The conditions for consent have been strengthened, and companies will no longer be able to use long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese, as the request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent. Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​”

“What’s your email address?” is hardly a reason for having it, so you can’t consent to whatever they might do with it. And those wanting to email a receipt shouldn’t actually do anything else with your email address – you only consented to receiving a receipt.

Being more selective over who these companies want in their databases and being compliantly up front about why is going to take a bit more effort than asking everyone for an email address – but surely it’s going to be better for everyone?

Pareto’s 80/20 rule has been hijacked by marketing writers to move from economics to sales, implying that 80% of sales volume comes from 20% of customers. Frankly it’s a bit too arbitrary for my liking when applied like that, but there is often some truth in the general principle. In many of the businesses I’ve worked with, there’s a core of customers who contribute more sales than many others combined.

Yes, by all means, these are great people to be in touch with – and they’re potentially more likely to value you being in touch too.

In the case of Office Outlet, if I was an office or purchasing manager for a business requiring lots of office stationery type products, then maybe yes, I’d value some offers coming my way. When I just buy a roll of sticky tape once in a while, then, no, I’m just not suddenly going to buy a laptop or a box of folders because you’ve sent me an email with a small discount.

So retailers, please stop bluntly asking me for my email address whenever I buy something from you. Perhaps decide if I’m really useful to you first – and give me a very good reason to sign up if you really want my details.