Time to drop the marketing/communications distinction?


After a conversation with a colleague last week, I was left thinking about the age-old debate of marketing vs. marketing communications and the distinction between the two.

The conversation we had lamented the fact that many of us work within a marketing team, or perhaps for a marketing provider, when in fact what we are delivering is tactical marketing communications – not the traditional definition of marketing.  It’s a fairly common scenario and the source of huge frustration for some marketers who find their time spent more on press releases and less on market segmentation or offer development.

But – as a communications professional with a strong marketing interest [treads carefully] – I wonder whether this endless argument over the distinction between the two disciplines is somehow de-valuing the role that marketing communications has to play? And perhaps the argument is defunct – is it time to redefine what marketing means anyway?

Part of the problem lies with the fact that ideally, marketing and communications are disciplines which should be recognised as being at the heart of the business strategy.  But often it sits further down the food-chain, so marketers are not involved in market-based decisions – rather, tasked with marketing communications once the strategic path has been set.  For me, marketing is unequivocally part of business strategy, and in its broadest sense communications is – or should be – too. I don’t think it’s marketers or communicators who have it wrong, necessarily – it’s a business-led culture tied up somewhere in hierarchy that has led to this.

But as marketers, communicators or both, we also need to be flexible – the whole landscape for interacting with our target audiences is changing fast and makes different demands on our roles.  Marketers must apply comms know-how in their ‘pure marketing’ activity since the online world defines so much in terms of buyer decision-making, just as comms without an eye to the business objectives  just isn’t marketing communications.  But more than that, the onus is perhaps on management strata to invite in views and ideas from the frontline at a strategic level – and for us marketers and communicators to continue to push for inclusion, whether by sharing unsolicited ideas, lobbying or simply asking outright.

Might sound simplistic, but we’re all in the business of persuasion, after all… aren’t we?

Share your views and experiences…is the definition of marketing changing?  Are marketing and communications getting closer, or further apart?

Kate Spiers is Founder and Director of Wisdom London
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3 Responses to “Time to drop the marketing/communications distinction?”

  1. I concur except that I believe a certain segment of marketing communications and corporate marketing professionals tend to want to stay away from a deep dive of the customer’s problems or the market in general. Sometimes it’s because the product or solution is too technical; other times its just that they want to stay on the “communications” side rather than the “marketing” side.

    To confuse the matter even more, where does demand generation efforts live? In my opinion, you can’t target specific segments unless you know that segment’s specific needs. If you have a “one voice for all” demand generation approach, you are bound to fail. Again it gets back to the fact that you have to understand the customer’s highest priority needs and how your products and services (solutions) meet those needs.

    And to aid more to the mix, where does marketing communications and corporate marketing intersect with product marketing (which is sometimes done by product managers)? In my humble opinion.the key is for all parties to have a “solutions marketing” approach instead of a product approach or a marketing communications approach. In my recent positions I have served as that bridge by morphing product marketer’s and product manager’s content into actionable solutions marketing plans. Those plans outline the strategic segments and the marketing strategy. The documents that spawn from that plan are campaign plans that marketing communications can use and marketing requirements documents that product marketing and product management can use. My titles in those roles have been senior solutions marketing manager, strategic segment manager and strategic marketing manager. I just call myself a B2B marketer.

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