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May 21 - Jun 03, 2001

Living in the midst of a complicated world, man often tries to find simple answers to rather complex questions, situations and problems. Most of these intricacies are man-made. As ironical as it may sound, these complex problems can have simple solutions. This article attempts to unravel certain complexities involved in business systems in general, and marketing in particular. This should not be taken as an immaculately binding testimonial, but rather, as a beginning to the development of a whole new system of processes based on simple, but technically sound designs.

Marketing unveils

Many a times we come across people who wish to know more about Marketing. Has there been a time when somebody asked you to define Marketing? For marketers, during interviews and in general discussions, this is the most commonly addressed question. How would you define Marketing? I can give you numerous definitions taken from various books and Journals. Some of them may look pertinent, while others may not. Some definitions are too difficult while others are just too lengthy. Considering the vast horizon of marketing, it may seem difficult to give a concise and complete definition on this subject. At times, Marketing becomes more or less obscure and abstract. Things become gloomy and marketing, all the more mysterious. Just to clear things up, we need to develop a simple, concise and yet complete interpretation of Marketing. If you ask me to give you a one-word definition of Marketing I would say, "Relationships!" Marketing is all about relationships. Developing, Managing and Sustaining Relationships! Nothing more and nothing less....

Dozens of books have been written on Customer Care, Product Positioning, Brand Development, Market Analysis and Segmentation, Consumer Behaviour etc. all of them have their own ways of dealing with such matters and I have my own. Marketing and all its associated processes revolve around "Relationships". Pure and simple relationships! Quite simple.... Well, Not quite! The difficult part comes in when you have to understand, manage and maintain these relationships. That is where your test starts.

Lets get involved with the nitty-gritty of Marketing. Think of anything and everything that comes to your mind when you are thinking of Marketing and think of it, in terms of "Relationships". Strategic Marketing Planning; Target Marketing; Customer needs, wants and demands; Marketing Research; Consumer Roles and Behaviour Analysis; Product Design and Management; Product Pricing, Placement and Promotion; Personal Selling and Sales Management; Competitor Analysis; Brand Management and Presentation etc. Let's mark them as activities and processes. The relationship cycle starts with you. At first, you need to develop a strong bonding with yourself. This would be the beginning of your growth and development. It will take you in the right direction and all other relationships/ processes would start from this point onwards. Your relationship with your company or business (since companies are living and breathing entities with their exclusive prestige, image, needs and wants), your team members or employees, your offerings; the relationship you have developed with your Customers, how well you understand them and how well you keep pace with them; Your relationship with your surroundings or environments and how well you respond to them. You can even develop relationships with competition. You + You, You + Company (You + Employee including all sales force, Upper and Lower level Management, IT personnel, Distribution Channels, Production and Purchasing Department etc., You + Corporate Goals, Needs, Image and Prestige. This is where company focused loyal relationships are formed. You are a part of the company, and the company is an integral part of you), You + Product, You + Customer, You + Competition, You + Environments (this may include; changing life styles, technological advancements, social adaptations, altering governments, global policy shifts etc.) are all basic relationships and every other process/ activity (marked above) no matter how complex or intricate, starts from these relationships. They form the foundation of all activities. Most of these relationships are interlinked and have overlapping concurrences. Develop a strong base and you have secured a strong building. A building full of activities, processes, and full, of relationships! You see, Marketing has more to do with people than with ordinary, lifeless things and where human element shows its presence, relationships emerge automatically. Take a look at all the above listed entities; You, Customer, Competitor, Product (in relation to its producer and consumer) and finally, the Company (in terms of its employees, need, identity) are all human-enriched possibilities possessing endless opportunities of developing everlasting relationships.

Relationship basics

It's about time to get acquainted with relationships. Declaring, that Marketing equals Relationships, is not enough. To clear things up we would require a little more elaboration. Marketing is a continuous process of developing, managing and sustaining relationships. Even after one has managed to develop strong relationships, holding on to them becomes all the more challenging. You, The Company, The Product, The Customer, Distribution, Environments, Competition & Human Resource, are all distinct entities with distinguished relationships. Each relationship is unique and needs to be handled accordingly. Nobody can tell you how to develop a relationship, or let alone, manage one, but people can always give you a few pointers or commonalities, which can guide you in shaping such lasting relationships. Devotion, Caring and Honesty are just a few to start with.

Firstly, you need to do a little convincing. You have to convince yourself whether you wish to establish a relationship or not. This is where, "You-You" relationship plays its role. When you establish a relationship with yourself you immediately know who you are? What you are? Where you should be? What you need to be doing? It answers all the mysteries about you as you are playing the lead role in all of these relationships. It makes you aware of your characteristics, your strengths and weaknesses etc. You see, when you decide that you need to develop a relationship you try to know each and everything about the other person or entity and this is the best part of making relationships whereby continuous exchange of information takes place.

After you have established a "You-You" relationship you are ready to institute other relationships for example a relationship with your company, product, customer etc. All such relationships would then be based upon sound foundations of altruistic development.

Working with relationships

The relationship Life Cycle consists of three distinct phases, The Creation Phase, The Building Phase & The Maintenance Phase. The Creation phase may require a 180% commitment from your part (the 80% above 100 is for the other participant, there are times when you need to do his share as well) but as the cycle progresses your commitment lowers and things start progressing naturally. Mind you, this commitment should never go below the danger level or your relationship will cease to progress. Once built, relationships define a never-ending process, where things keep on changing and you keep on adapting accordingly. Let's consider the "You-You" relationship. Here, you start off by knowing more about yourself; with continuous dialogues you gradually build a rapport with yourself. With the passage of time, people tend to change, and only by maintaining a continuous rapport you can change your plans and actions accordingly.

Similar situation occurs with other relationships. In a "You-Environment" relationship, external forces and agents (Macro & Micro factors etc) change quickly, thus requiring continuous adaptation from your side. That is why, sustaining relationships, is so important. Whereas in a "You-Product" relationship you begin by understanding your product's features, build your relationship by digging deep and identifying its benefits, strengths and weaknesses, maintain your relationship through continuous monitoring whereby entering the realms of Product Improvement and Enhancement. This is when your creativity is performing at its peak. You start adding value to your product; find new markets or uses for your product.

Customer Relationships need special care as well. Getting a customer is easy but keeping him isn't. You can only achieve this by maintaining deeply rooted robust relationships. Customers' demand personalized long-term relationships. If your relationship ceases to progress after reaching its maturity level, you have a very good chance of loosing your client.

All relationships pass through a definite life cycle. As the number of relationships increase, maintaining them become all the more cumbersome. When working with relationships one must always remember, that he has promises to make and relationships to keep.

Relationships everywhere

If you look around you, you will find a network of relationships. We work in clusters of relationships all linked together to complete our life Cycle. Maintaining a harmonious equilibrium within this Network is quite important. When this equilibrium is disrupted, problems arise.

We adopt different professions and perform distinct roles during our lifetime. Let's take a look at some of these professions. IT professionals develop relationships with computers; Developers with programming codes while Designers have a knack for Graphics, colours, nature etc. I for one knew that I couldn't develop such "human-computer" relationships therefore I chose to develop relationships with those who knew how to develop relationships with Computers.

Students on the other hand develop relationships with books. This reminds me of my childhood story. I was in 9th class and my final exams were near I had to pass my Sindhi Language paper which comes as a compulsory subject if you are studying in Karachi. I was finding it difficult to come to terms with this language and in my anxiety I squashed my Sindhi book gave it a few twists and threw it in disgust. After a while I realized that if I need to pass, I have to make friends with this book. So, I picked up my Sindhi book and started my first ever relationship with a book. Eventually, I passed! From then onwards I have managed to continue my friendship with books and this relationship has indeed paid me dividends.

Developing relationships is a natural trait and can only come with experience. What I can suggest here is, that, whenever you are thinking of something, let's say Marketing, think of it in terms of relationships. All the puzzling pieces would then, start falling in.

This world is all about relationships, making, breaking and strengthening relationships. We have a relationship with God (Allah), with our parents, friends, relatives and every other thing that affects our lives. A mathematician's relationship with numbers, chemist's with chemical compounds and reactions, a scientist's relationship with science and so on. Relationships have always played their role in our lives. Their initiation takes courage; their development requires perseverance; and their maintenance demands patience. In order to utilize the full potential of relationships, one must always remember the golden rule, "initiate, build and keep them for life!"