I really hate the term ‘marcomms’. I’m not even sure about ‘marketing communications’. Of course they go hand in hand for much of the time but I like there to be a little ‘and’ in the middle of those words, and this is why – while there are many points of intersection, I don’t think ‘marketing’ as a concept has any space for genuine disinterestedness, while ‘communications’ does.
Marketing is about working out how to sell your product or service. You need to figure out who might want to buy it, how much they would be willing pay, and how to present both the product and your company really well to those people, in order to persuade them to do so. Words like audience and brand and targets and product development start flying about and making small business owners quake in their boots. Marketing is a pretty technical thing – it follows set principles and firm ideas which anybody can follow but which can seem impenetrable and mired in jargon.
Implementing a marketing plan then involves good communications – deploying well-written copy and engaging images and/or design, maintaining a website and social media channels that provide interesting and useful content, and so on depending on your business type. Communications is about presenting your product in the way that your marketing planning suggests will be fruitful, and a good communications strategy is about working out how best to do this.
Marketing strategy must run in parallel with communications implementation in order for a marketing strategy to be effective – we have to communicate with our market. But I think this is the crux of the problem – a ‘market’ fundamentally implies commerce and therefore ‘marketing’ does too (it is, according to the OED, “The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising“). Communications doesn’t imply that: it is “The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium“. These differences are subtle but I think they make the ‘marcomms’ portmanteau a little uncomfortable.
In the past year I have managed three Facebook pages on behalf of organisations that have no ‘selling’ intention at all – both (as well as the organisations behind them) have a pure communications function, simply to let people know what’s happening and tell them how they can be involved in a community. They have an information market but not a commercial one. The desire is there to build an audience and build conversations, but for genuinely altruistic reasons – education, community interaction, fitness – and the hard business of marketing isn’t necessary as they operate within contained communities. I think they demonstrate that good communications without marketing is possible, while marketing without good communications is pointless.
Communications can be pure and without self-interest. It can be motivated by the simple desire to talk and to get in touch. Of course I am in no way anti-marketing – even the smallest businesses depend upon the guidance of marketing principles to make much progress – but the creative, human side of what we term ‘communications’ is the bit I enjoy. It’s the bit where you forget that you’re trying to sell something and enjoy the process of exchanging and informing – the process, via whatever medium, of talking.