As members of the Zion & Zion account management team, we decided to attend the Marketing Management Bootcamp from American Marketing Association (AMA) in Las Vegas. The bootcamp lasted two days, included marketers from across the country, and was led by Greg Marshall, PhD of Rollins College.

As account managers, part of our job is to look at the bigger picture when it comes to our clients. We attended this bootcamp to get enhance our understanding of how businesses may work behind the scenes. We looked at marketing as a whole, rather than just the advertising aspect of it, which is just a piece of the entire business pie. We not only got to hear more about what goes into strategy, but also met other attendees who focus on marketing in their roles.

Below are a few takeaways from the AMA Bootcamp that serve as helpful reminders as we continue to strengthen our roles as account managers and marketing advisors.

Recent Trends in Marketing

The AMA defines Marketing as the “activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Some of the more recent trends in marketing that strengthen the focus on customers while also strengthening promotion efforts of products/services include:

  • Differentiation Focus – How do you make your product different from the competition so customers will want to use it/buy it? You can offer the same overall product as another company but finding ways to make yours stand out above the rest should be part of your overall brand strategy.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – You could ask, is CRM only a software system, a strategy, an overarching philosophy, or all three? It isn’t just about building a database, but also thinking thoroughly about how to properly use that database to accomplish your goals and objectives. CRM systems are a great way to manage customer relationships in a strategic way. It can be an incredibly beneficial tool, especially if the entire organization is able to access the information; it allows everyone to be customer centric.
  • Customer Advocacy – Start by focusing on customer satisfaction, then figure out how to make them a loyal customer, and in the end, an advocate. Word-of-mouth is powerful, so once you get customers in the door, you don’t want to forget about them. They are still a part of the sales funnel, and when they become an advocate for your brand, you want to make sure they stick around.
  • Everyone Owning the Brand – In order to strengthen your brand, everyone in your company must be on the same page and on board with your messaging. If employees in sales are saying something different than ones in customer service, it can wear down your brand message. Articulating it to everyone at the beginning is important. Everyone in the company should feel like they have ownership as well, not just the leadership team.
  • Customer Generated Content – This is becoming more of a trend lately, especially in the digital era, where customers can share their positive (or negative) experiences with a product or at a location.
  • Digital/Social – The world of data is at your fingertips. Whether it’s collecting data for research or building relationships with customers via the digital space, this won’t be going away, so embrace it.
  • Generational Focus – Not every generation responds to marketing the same way, so customize your messaging to speak appropriately to your audience.

Strategic Differentiation of the Business, Not Just the Product

Strategic differentiation is what sets a product or service apart from competitors, through your value proposition (more about value props below) and the advantages in the marketplace you have over your competitors.

Examples of ways that you can differentiate your business as the leader in your space includes:

  • Price – If the cost of labor, materials, or efficiency lead to the ability to charge less, this is one way to stand out from the others. However, if you offer a premium product, this is probably not the best route to go because you don’t want to devalue your offering.
  • Innovation – If you’re in the business of “developing the next new thing” and want to be a leader in innovation, then this is a differentiator that would put you ahead of the rest.
  • Quality – If you have a higher quality product that can be put against a competitor, then focus on this differentiator, especially when your product/service is at a similar price point as a competitor.
  • Value – How does your product evoke value to your target markets? If a customer is providing you something (like money or time) in exchange for your product of service, is it worth it to them and how can you show that you created something of value for them?
  • Product – These are specifically tangible features like performance, features, durability, reliability, style, etc. How does your product offering stand out ahead of the rest?
  • Service/Personnel – Quality customer service is a differentiator because sometimes it isn’t just about the product, but also the people behind it. Having staff who are competent, reliable, and committed to communicating with customers in a clear and courteous way are invaluable to a company.
  • Convenience – When your offering is easy for customers to access or obtain and you don’t require too much from customers to get what they want, compared to your competitors, this is another way to stand out.

Although it would be great if you had all those differentiators, if you don’t, focus on one, and execute it well.

The Importance of Clarifying Your Offerings and Value Propositions

An offering is not simply just a product or service, it represents the whole package that the customer can experience from a company to satisfy what they want and need. While the product or service has features that the customer likes, the overall benefit of the offering is more about all the components that go into meeting the customer’s needs. Benefits are weighed by the customer based on what they give, and then what receive back from you. If your offering is not greater than or equal to what they give, they won’t see a benefit in your offering.

A value proposition is a promise of what value a company can bring to its customers and is something customers believe in. Your value proposition must be built on your company’s core competencies. When a company tries to position itself to have a value proposition and offerings that don’t sync up with their ability to deliver on the core competencies required to fulfill that, that is when customers end up unhappy.

It Takes an Entire Team to Stay in-Sync

Oftentimes, a consistent struggle within companies is the battle between staying marketing-focused and sales-focused. Sales can treat marketing like a service department and forget that everyone needs to work together to maximize the customer’s experience to deliver on what the customer really wants. When leadership stays focused on maximizing the customer’s experience, it results in better message integration across the company and enables streamlined selling behavior to have a successful sales cycle.

A company’s marketing culture should not be created around batting 1,000 every time (sales-focused). It should have a focused and slow build up with room for iteration to always be up to date on what the customer wants (marketing-focused).

The Ying and Yang of Marketing

Marketing takes place at two very different yet related levels: strategic and tactical. But what must be the common focus of the two is the customer. Ultimately, marketing is done for customers, not products or the people behind the products. When you lose sight of what the customer needs, you can lose sight of having a successful marketing message, which in turn can hurt sales.

As account managers, we see this happen frequently inside clients’ organizations, where marketing is being done to please internal stakeholders close to a product. As our clients’ strategic partners, it’s our job to educate them of how to marry what they want to convey with what the customer actually needs and wants to hear and know.

How Are We Bringing this Back to Zion & Zion?

As account managers, we often act as marketing managers for our clients if they don’t have someone in that role, and if they do, we are who they look to as their marketing advisors. It’s a common mistake to get stuck in the day-to-day execution of making sure work gets done. Revisiting the philosophies of marketing at this bootcamp will help you become stronger in your ability to take a step back and look at the big picture when it comes to marketing.