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Mr. Marketing

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  • | 10:59 a.m. June 2, 2017
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A marketing mastermind is in our midst.

For part of the year, Philip Kotler, considered by many to be the father of modern marketing, lives on Sarasota's Longboat Key.

Kotler is the S.C. Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He's written more than 50 books, including coauthoring with Kevin Keller “Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation and Control,” a widely used marketing textbook in undergraduate and graduate business schools.

Kotler recently answered questions over email on marketing and his career. (He declined to meet for an in-person interview.) Edited excerpts follow.

What are the most important marketing steps a startup should take?

Startup companies need to think carefully about why they want to start this new business. What is the customer need that they aim to satisfy? Why do they believe that they can satisfy this customer need better than competitors? Will customers see more value in the offer than the price that the company charges? Have you defined the specific types of people who are most likely to have an interest in your offer? Do you know what media to use to reach these prospects efficiently and effectively?

What are some general marketing mistakes you have seen companies make?

I have witnessed many marketing mistakes that companies make. I ended up writing a book called “Ten Deadly Marketing Sins: Signs and Solutions.” Here they are:

• Your company is not sufficiently market-focused and customer-driven.
• Your company does not fully understand its target customers.
• Your company needs to better define and monitor its competition.
• Your company has not properly managed its relationship with its key stakeholders.
• Your company is not good at finding new opportunities and thinking innovatively.
• Your company's marketing planning process is deficient.
• Your company's product and service policies need better targeting.
• Your company's brand-building and communication skills are weak.
• Your company is not well organized to carry on effective and efficient marketing.
• You company has not made maximum use of new technology.

For each marketing sin, I describe the signs and solutions.

What are some new trends in marketing you think have staying power? 

The old marketing was mass marketing. The company had to produce expensive 30-second TV commercials. Most were wasteful because most viewers who saw them were not in the market for your offerings. You need to move from mass marketing to market segmentation. Identify those market segments that would have the most interest in your offerings.

The new marketing involves building a customer database with reliable individual profile information. This will enable you to choose the right social media marketing tools (Facebook, Google, Instagram, podcasts, etc.) that will reach specific target customers. I just published a book called “Social Media Marketing” that will give you all the tools that you need to reach and motivate your prospects.

In my book “Marketing 4.0,” I described the main features of new marketing beyond the specific social media marketing tools. Marketers now study the customer's journey toward purchase and the various touchpoints along the way. Every touchpoint must be a moment of truth and encourage the customer to move to the next step. During the journey, the company needs to supply the customer with content of interest to the customer. The delivered content is different than a sales message and terms. It is the way one friend tells another friend about an interesting and relevant article to read.

How can small businesses get better marketing results even with a small budget?

The wonderful thing about the new social media is that it costs much less to use than ads on TV, radio, magazines and newspapers and can be more precise in hitting the target market. Make sure that your team includes someone very familiar with social media. Do some social media marketing experiments to test the impact of specific social media marketing tools. Learn by trial and error.

At the same time, use more conventional low-cost means of getting your message out: give talks at trade shows, write articles to establish your expertise, join organizations where you can mention your products and brand to others.

What are some of the key points in your book “Marketing Management,” that have made it stand the test of time? 

“Marketing Management” is now in its 15th edition. It has kept up with the changing knowledge, stories and practices of marketing. It is not just descriptive and prescriptive of marketing practice. Its basic message is to design each business at the beginning by defining the customer groups and needs that you are trying to satisfy and the channels and messages that you will use to reach customers and deliver your offerings. All this is done by understanding the surrounding environment, institutions and competitors. The book presents countless examples of actual company marketing as well as the findings of major research studies. I use a combination of economic, organizational and social-psychological concepts and theories to explain marketing behavior and decision-making.

What do companies and entrepreneurs misunderstand about marketing?

Too many business people see marketing as mainly a communication function to be applied once they made all the product and service decisions. I disagree fully with this view. Marketing must be the thought process that management uses to arrive at the decision of who to satisfy and what to make and offer. We call this strategic marketing as opposed to only tactical marketing.

Who do you admire in the marketing today? What are your favorite sources of information about marketing?

I owe the greatest credit to the late Peter Drucker, who I call the grandfather of marketing because of all his rich insights into customer focus. He said: “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Along the way, I admired the insights of the late Ted Levitt and John Howard. Today we have many superb academic marketers (I won't list my favorites for fear that I would forget one of them). We also have a large number of gifted chief marketing officers heading some of our largest companies. We have to appreciate the great challenge that they face, in that today's markets are more global, more complex, more unstable, more variable and more competitive than ever.

Current information about marketing is found in leading business magazines such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Forbes, and in American Marketing Association's Marketing News and its Journal of Marketing.


Marketing professor and consultant Philip Kotler has written more than 50 books. Some of the standouts include:

• “Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation and Control”
• “Principles of Marketing”
• “Marketing Models”
• “Marketing 4.0: Moving from Traditional to Digital”
• “Social Media Marketing: A Practitioner Guide”
• “Ten Deadly Marketing Sins: Signs and Solutions”
• “Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations”
• “Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism”
• “According to Kotler: The World's Foremost Authority on Marketing Answers Your Questions”
• “Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviors for Good”
• “Winning at Innovation: The A-to-F Model”
• “Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System”
• “Democracy in Decline: Rebuilding its Future”


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