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The biggest misconception about marketing

Most people mistakenly think of marketing as an external action. Often, when I ask one of my new clients about their current marketing system, I get a response like, “Sure, I have an e-commerce website. We’re always sending out offers to our prospects,” or, “We run regular marketing campaigns all over the country.” They see marketing as an activity, an outward-facing process to interact with and serve their customers. And they’ve got it all wrong.

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If you’re confused by the true nature of marketing, you’re clearly not alone. It’s commonly misunderstood as outreach. But what those new clients were describing is actually lead generation—the activities required to generate new leads. Marketing, on the other hand, is a discipline, an internal process that happens before you ever launch a single lead generation activity; that is, if you want those activities to yield real results.

Marketing is research, thinking and analysis. It’s the strategic work you do to figure out key information about your most probable customers including:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are
  • Their needs and perceptions 
  • How to effectively communicate with them 

The information you get from your marketing work helps you develop the strategies not only for lead generation activities, but lead conversion and customer fulfillment too. Without this information, any customer engagement is totally based on assumption. It’s a random activity that will get random results. 


Here’s a common, damaging assumption: Your ideal customer is you. Most likely, they’re not. (And I’m not the only one who recognizes how pervasive a mistake this is.) Many small business owners start off believing that the people buying from them think, act and shop the same way they do. Not true—and it’s a hard belief to move away from.

So, your ideal customer isn’t you—and it’s also not everyone. Yes, your potential market is everyone, but your products or services may be perfect for one type of person, completely inappropriate for another, and just “so-so” for the rest. You’ll need to know a lot about your market to really build a solid profile of your ideal customer, but start with demographics and psychographics: the relevant and tangible facts that describe your customers and prospective customers. This includes:

  • Age
  • Employment status
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Education
  • Race
  • Occupation
  • Marital status
  • Ethnicity
  • Income
  • Family status
  • Physical characteristics

There are lots of ways to get this information. You can hire a marketing agency to help, or get data from a trade or government organization. Or, you can conduct your own research through customer surveys, loyalty programs or simply well-placed questions when meeting with customers. One brilliant client of mine got most of his customer information from small talk. He had a postal services shop, and while packaging stuff for a customer, he made a point to ask questions like: 

“Do you live in the neighborhood?” 

“Oh, you’re sending this to Oklahoma City. Do you have family there?”

“Do your kids go to the school across the street?”

“Do you work around here? What do you do?”

“How did you find out about us?”

“Have you ever been to our competitor down the street? What made you come in here?”

He kept a clipboard under the counter that he’d pull out after, and would note down any responses as well as what he could observe. After several months of this, he had a pretty good idea of his ideal customer and where they were located. 

You may be surprised by what you find through this research. It’s possible that your ideal customer today may not align with your vision of the business, so you may need to intentionally change some aspect(s) of your business to attract a customer base that’s more aligned with what you want.

Your goal here is to create a marketing system that allows you to get continuous information from your customers so that you can regularly check in with them and make sure that you're making the right decisions. And just as importantly—especially in uncertain times like these—you need to know enough about your customer to be able to appropriately pivot your offerings when a crisis hits. Once you have your marketing processes in place, you have what you need to design lead generation campaigns that work.

Want to speak with a coach about how to build a strategic marketing system? We’re here to help.

Adam Traub

Written by Adam Traub

Adam Traub is a senior member of the EMyth Coaching Team and an expert in the EMyth Approach. In his nearly 20 years with the company, his experience has included program development, coach training, customer satisfaction and success, and personally coaching hundreds of business owners through the joys and challenges of redesigning their businesses. Adam’s dedication to helping business owners and leaders comes from his own interest in culture and people dynamics, as well as personal experience working through the EMyth Program as a client, where he saw the possibility for all leaders to transform their companies, create a better culture, and achieve their vision.