What does marketing even do?
If you're a marketer, I bet you've probably heard a variant of this question before. Even if it hasn't been asked aloud in a company, you can be sure some exec or cross-functional partner has thought about it.
It can be very frustrating when this question arises. Marketing isn't a new function. And yet, most folks don't have a good mental model for what marketing teams do and how they do it. This problem doesn't exist for many other functions - sales, engineering, product management, design, finance, support, etc.
My recent Linkedin post on a related topic (definitions of various marketing roles) got a lot of attention from fellow marketers, which was telling.
A particular comment on that post by Katie Mitchell, who leads Product and Brand Marketing at Sprig, captured the underlying reason for this confusion well. Marketing has changed so dramatically in the last two decades. Media consumption, marketing technology, the rise of the internet, and then mobile and new business models have led to so much change that marketing is still catching up. Every company, seemingly, has unique needs and combines a bunch of underlying marketing functions into a job description.
This dynamic nature of marketing makes it complicated to properly define the function and sub-functions of marketing.
It also means that when non-marketing founders hire marketers, or cross-functional stakeholders evaluate marketing, their view is very unclear, and evaluation criteria are messy.
Does it have to be this hard? No. Is it best to let the confusion continue? No. There's a better way. I implore more marketing leaders to use this framework to talk about marketing.
Enter from stage left the jobs to be done framework. Have you not heard about this framework? Well, you're missing out. Go, read this book, like now!
The jobs to be done framework allows us to understand the underlying job that a consumer of a product or service is trying to accomplish. In this case, businesses hire marketing to achieve a job.
What is the job of marketing? There are a lot of definitions on the internet.
I like the Shopify and Hubspot definitions.
However, if you ask a great CEO or CMO to define the role of marketing, you're likely to hear that the job of marketing doesn't stop at attracting an audience. You also need to be able to convert that interest into action, thereby creating revenue.
Said another way, if we view marketing from the jobs to be done framework, it boils down to one thing. The core job of marketing is to grow revenue faster.
You might wonder at this point. Isn't that sales? There's a close relationship between the two, for sure. It's not that different from the relationship between product/design and engineering. All three work on "building the product." Similarly, marketing and sales work on growing revenue faster - but each has different specialties.
I like to break down marketing's core job into three sub-jobs, each of which has even more sub-jobs.
After being in product and growth for a large part of my career, when I switched formally into marketing a couple of years ago, I didn't have a deep understanding of this. Chris Walker from the agency Refine labs gets full credit for inspiring this line of thinking. His latest Linkedin post is a great example of how he cuts through the noise in marketing. I believe this will become the standard for tech marketing in the next decade.
In the following sections, I've defined each job and sub-job. Here's where I think this can help. Our industry will benefit from using these jobs to reference our titles/teams/activities rather than vague job titles that nobody knows how to decipher. Just for clarity, not all sub-jobs apply to every marketing organization, but most do.
Creating demand is the hardest and most valuable part of marketing. Creating demand means increasing awareness of the problem and the solution among your audience and doing it in a way that elicits action from them to explore your product or service.
Demand creation is not limited to just the core product and initial purchase. The job extends to post-purchase - when you have to create demand for upselling, cross-selling, and renewal - throughout the customer lifecycle.
Here's what it takes:
Nothing else matters if you're not creating content for your audience. It's the foundation of demand creation. Compelling content can be educational, inspirational, instructional, or fun. Ideally, your content strategy covers all of these angles. One thing to remember is that content is not just blogs or ebooks. Marketers must explore the possibilities - audio, video, written, graphic, and events.
It's important to remember that content creation isn't random. There's so much content on the internet these days that it's hard to stand out. Your content strategy should help you position yourself as the leader in the category — by demonstrating deep expertise and experience.
What good is content creation if there's no distribution? Does it even matter if you wrote a fantastic piece, but no one read it? I'll let you in on a secret - the answer is no.
There are so many ways to distribute content now. The same content can be repurposed and broadcast on multiple channels - Twitter, Linkedin, Email, partner publishers, Facebook, Tiktok, Reddit, and Quora. Each channel has its algorithm and format preferences, but the same content can be repurposed to fit each, increasing your reach.
A unique/niche sub-job in the content distribution job is partner marketing. Finding partners with whom you can create win-win content distribution deals is a very high ROI marketing activity, especially if you can find partners with outsized reach and influence with your audience.
Community-led growth is quite the buzz these days. It isn't a new phenomenon. Just look at Salesforce - arguably the pioneers of SaaS. Their current CMO, Sarah Franklin, rose through the ranks at Salesforce by focusing on the developer/admin community - first in product marketing, then as a leader of the famed Trailhead community program, before eventually taking on the CMO role. There's organic word of mouth about your product or service and your category. If you can find a way to capture that in a structured method and glean insights from that community, you get better at creating demand.
Be mindful that community isn't just a forum or a Slack instance. It's a feeling of community and constant engagement in a genuine effort to help. If you're just focused on marketing or selling something through a community, it's unlikely to work.
Note that it's pretty easy to see what teams/titles usually work on demand creation - Content Marketing, Community, Partner Marketing. The piece that's usually not attributed to these teams is distribution. That needs to change to get better outcomes.
Picture this. You've started creating and distributing a ton of content. As a result, you're getting healthy inbound traffic and awareness. And still, you're not generating enough revenue.
One reason might be that you're not capturing that demand effectively. Before you start with demand creation, I recommend focusing on demand capture. Ensure that the basics are in place and you're not just spinning your wheels with demand creation without much forward progress.
Here's what it takes:
The buyer journey is the end-to-end path through your product for your buyers. It spans your website, sign-up process, pricing discussion, to the eventual purchase, onboarding, and activation. Optimizing this journey aims to ensure high conversion rates and reduce drop-off. You're essentially trying to minimize the time to value for your prospects and customers.
This optimization has several aspects:
This one feels newer to marketing teams. Given the importance of retention and upsell in tech, most top marketing teams don't just stop at the point of initial purchase. Just like they optimize the buyer journey, they continue to optimize the post-purchase experience by creating growth and habit loops. These experiences, in close coordination with the product team, help customers discover and share value with other users and become habitual users of the product.
This optimization has several aspects:
For many organizations, the ultimate sales pitch/process is handled by a sales team. Therefore, one essential job for marketers to capture demand effectively is to enable and empower the sales team with the right sales pitch, objection handling, competitive assets, and everything in between.
Marketing will be doing itself a disservice if we don't work closely with sales on these items. What's the point of creating all this demand if sales can't close it? More often than not, partnering closely with sales enables a great feedback loop to refine demand creation efforts further.
Here's something interesting. More often than not, Growth Marketing teams take the lead on demand capture. However, Product Marketing teams lead sales enablement with the sales enablement function within Sales.
Four additional jobs are unique in that they help in both creating and capturing demand. However, they are often used in demand capture only, which is a shame. Most of these are often subsumed by "Growth marketing" teams.
Advertising is the OG of marketing. Many people incorrectly conflate advertising and marketing. The reason is that, before the internet, most demand creation efforts revolved around advertising. There weren't many "scaled" mechanisms for marketers to create awareness. Well, the reality is that advertising continues to be a great way to amplify both demand creation and capture activities.
You can use ads to capture demand by ensuring that people with intent have easy access to your products. It's often done through "branded" ads on various platforms (e.g., Google search ads).
More importantly, you can use ads to create awareness for your category/product. It's often done by targeting your ideal customer profile (likely on Social media or other media platforms) and repeating messaging/content in ways that leave an impression on them. When people in that audience eventually intend to buy, they might enter your funnel through other mechanisms.
With the rise of Google and Apple, Search engine optimization (SEO) and App store optimization (ASO) have emerged as great techniques to amplify demand creation and capture. Again, some people conflate SEO with content creation — these are two different things but have a close relationship.
When you master SEO/ASO as a marketing organization, you can glean insights from search and app store platforms that can feed your overall demand engine. You'll be able to identify new angles for content creation based on search intent, improve the discoverability of your existing content, and identify new advertising opportunities based on organic search trends.
Customer communications cut across all facets of marketing. In most companies, this is called "email marketing," but with in-product messaging, push notifications, and SMS offering multiple communication methods, the scope of this sub-job is expanding. There's an ever-increasing need to understand the effectiveness and efficiency of communicating in a multi- and omnichannel way. Doing this well requires marketing teams to become experts on various communication methods, formats, and platforms.
Design is often one of the most well-understood sub-jobs. I think this one is obvious but can't be ignored or minimized in our discussion of marketing jobs. None of the other sub-jobs can be done well without great design. Where we falter with design is under-staffing it. Either capacity or skill set (e.g., not hiring for motion).
Ok, finally, we get to strategy. A clear and effective marketing strategy identifies critical problems to solve and helps align everyone. Without an effective strategy, what's the point of any other marketing activity?
Let's dive in and find out what sub-jobs need to be done.
This work allows businesses to clearly articulate their ideal customer profile, their alternatives in the market (competitive intelligence), the market definition, and the why and how of your product's differentiated positioning in the market.
Your positioning and messaging will evolve as your product and business grow. This work enables your marketing team to proactively stay on top of that evolution and improve the efficiency of demand creation and capture efforts.
Marketing research can be defined as the constant pursuit of knowledge about why people buy, don't buy, or churn from your product. While businesses understand the value of marketing research, it's rare to find fully funded research teams. Companies ignore it at their peril.
A company's brand is the overall reputation of your business in a prospect's or customer's mind. Everything you do in marketing (and product, support, sales, engineering) contributes to your brand. The reality is that most products and businesses don't leave any impression at all - they are forgettable.
However, some foundational work helps you reinforce your brand and leave a stronger impression. That work usually involves being crystal clear about why you exist (purpose), your business ambition (vision/mission), your values (attributes), and how you show up (visual identity).
Have you ever wondered how companies price their products? Well, they don't just pull it out of a hat. It's not random. At least, it shouldn't be. Determining pricing and packaging takes expertise and experience. Understanding your audience, the value drivers, the competition, and the willingness to pay all help you define and optimize your pricing over time. While you can wing it initially, you'll be better off investing time to get it right when scaling up.
Like an incredible orchestra, a talented team of marketers needs a conductor who can orchestrate a marketing strategy. Orchestration can come in various flavors — integrated marketing plans, project/program management, and coordination. Orchestration is yet another job that's typically understaffed in marketing teams.
Modern marketing teams have finally understood that it's challenging to run effective demand creation and capture programs without a comprehensive marketing technology stack and operational mindset. Setting up and refining the martech stack to work well with the rest of the tech infrastructure (sales tech, billing, product) is not as easy as it seems.
Last but not least is marketing analytics. This role has a lot - from setting up your measurement strategy in line with your demand creation and capture programs to aligning definitions with sales/product, setting up visualizations, and helping various teams run experiments to expand their impact.
Marketing organizations use different titles for each of these sub-jobs. The first couple usually fit within Product marketing, a couple under Brand marketing, and a few under Marketing Ops & Analytics.
Here's why this framework is essential.
The way we "title" roles is very unclear. Growth marketing in one company means very different things from another. The same is true for titles like Revenue marketing, Content marketing, Product marketing, Brand marketing, and the list goes on.
Instead of leaving it up to interpretation, I recommend naming these roles based on the job to be done. E.g., Content creation, Content distribution, etc.
As a candidate or marketer, if you don't define the core job to be done — i.e., what job you are accomplishing for your business, you're probably not going to impact the business in a meaningful way.
As a marketing leader, if you don't know why you need to open up a new role — i.e., what specific job you want the new hire to get done and why you're probably not going to succeed with the new hire.
As an exec or cross-functional leader, if you don't know the jobs (aka problems) your marketing team is focused on, you probably have misplaced expectations and will be disappointed.
Every one of the stakeholders I mentioned above will benefit from having a clear understanding of the jobs to be done by marketing. The answers depend on the stage of the company, the make-up of the existing team, and the unique problems the company faces.
We all owe it to ourselves as marketers to dial this in. It's all about setting expectations and ensuring sustainability.
Several small companies throw out a catch-all marketing title and expect that person to do ALL of the things and then are surprised when it doesn't work out. Don't get me wrong; you can find "full stack" marketers. They're just rare, just like "full stack" engineers.
We don't expect one engineer, product manager, or analyst to solve all our engineering, product, or analytics problems. Similarly, expecting one marketer to solve all our marketing problems is foolish.
So, the next time you're thinking about building out the marketing function at your company, think deeply about the jobs you need marketing to be doing!
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