As marketing continues to evolve in the 21st century, one of the most successful concepts has been holistic marketing, a strategy to move marketing beyond the marketing department to an enterprise-wide role in strategy for all business functions.
Rather than working in silos on isolated advertising projects like traditional marketing departments, holistic marketers identify opportunities, design products and services, and build the infrastructure to support them. Unlike traditional marketers, holistic marketers view the business as one interdependent entity, which enables them to bring a cross-enterprise perspective to strategy at the corporate level.
Beyond redefining the marketing function as a force at the core of the business, holistic marketers are also concerned with other profit drivers that traditional marketers often neglected, including the role the business plays in the broader economy, in society, and in the lives of customers.
- Holistic marketing is a strategy to move marketing beyond the marketing department to an enterprise-wide role in strategy for all business functions.
- By viewing the business as one interdependent entity, holistic marketers bring a cross-enterprise perspective to corporate strategy.
- Holistic marketers are also concerned with the role the business plays in the broader economy, in society, and in the lives of customers.
Holistic Marketing: Enterprise-Wide Mindset
As an enterprise-wide strategy, holistic marketing programs (and all related processes and activities) are designed as interconnected platforms with the breadth to integrate all business activities and align all employees—from the support staff to the CEO—on shared business goals as well as consistent messaging.
Proponents of holistic marketing argue that the fact that marketers sit outside individual business units gives them the perspective to see the entire business as one holistic entity that can be—and should be—aligned against common organizational objectives. Unlike other functions, not only is marketing ideally positioned to leverage the interdependence of all business activities within an enterprise to drive alignment—but the holistic mindset can also drive strategy, efficiency, and profit in a way that no other function can.
“Marketing Is Everything and Everything Is Marketing”
Holistic marketing is a fairly recent buzzword, but the core principle—marketing as a cross-enterprise business driver—is not new. As early at 1991, Regis McKenna, the “P.R. Guru of Silicon Valley,” said in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that the traditional image of marketing as a “distinct… separate function… subordinate to the core functions” is “totally unsupportable and obsolete.” Famously, he argued that all critical drivers that define how companies do business are “ultimately the functions of marketing”—which means that “marketing is everything and everything is marketing.”
In 2002, Philip Kotler, a trained economist who has been called “the most influential marketer of all time,” said that marketing has become “much more important in the hierarchy of company functions” for the simple reason that modern economies have a “surfeit of goods” and a “shortage of customers.” With market forces ramping up competition and technology giving consumers much more power and much more choice, holistic marketing offers businesses effective strategies to differentiate their brands and create interdepartmental synergy and efficiency.
“Everything Matters” in Holistic Marketing
In an interview in 2019, Kotler said that holistic marketers understand that “everything matters with marketing”—and this broad, integrated perspective is what delivers the best solutions. For that reason, he predicted “the demise of the marketing department and the rise of holistic marketing.”
When the Harvard Business Review said that “marketing has become too important to be left just to the marketers,” their intent was not to “disparage marketers” but to “underscore how holistic” marketing has become in high-performing companies that deliver seamless brand experiences to all stakeholders, from customers and employees to store clerks and phone center reps.
In fact, three of the five drivers of organizational effectiveness identified by the HBR are holistic marketing practices: 1) connecting marketing to the business strategy across the organization; 2) engaging employees at all levels on the brand purpose; and 3) organizing agile, cross-functional teams against shared business objectives.
Holistic Marketing vs. Market Segmentation
In contrast to another powerful trend in marketing—market segmentation, the process of dividing a target market into defined customer subgroups based on their differences—holistic marketing is focused on unifying a market by identifying shared goals. The holistic assumption is that, no matter how diverse segments of people across markets might be, they are often united on large, global initiatives—and businesses that align their brands with what their customers want at the big-picture, aspirational level can drive growth organically and cost-effectively.
As Kotler said, branding is not only about creating customers—it’s about “creating fans” that trust the brand to help them live better lives. Companies that communicate a higher brand purpose don’t only have engaged customers—they have customer-advocates who provide cost-free advertising across channels.
Societal Marketing at Ben & Jerry’s
An example of effective holistic societal marketing is Ben & Jerry’s introduction of the concept of social auditing and their establishment of a "double bottom line" that tracks not only profit but also impact on people—especially environmental impact. As a global leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR), Ben & Jerry’s production partners use only fair-trade, non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients and adhere to strict environmental standards.
The 4 Dimensions of Holistic Marketing
Kotler’s four dimensions of holistic marketing demonstrate just how comprehensive and complex this approach is, covering everything from internal alignment on the brand purpose to business relationships with all stakeholders and the ethical, social, and environmental effects of the business on society.
Internal Marketing: Kotler said that holistic marketers understand that everyone in the organization—especially senior management—represents the brand, so consistent internal alignment to the brand vision and brand principles plays a critical part in external perceptions of the brand. As McKenna put it: “Marketing has to be…part of everyone’s job description, from the receptionists to the board of directors”—not to brainwash the customer but to establish a “systematic process for interaction that will create substance in the relationship.”
Integrated Marketing: Integrated marketing is the synchronization of all marketing activities on all channels so that all customers and business partners have the same perception of the brand and the messaging. Consistency across the omnichannel experience builds trust, communicates reliability, and fosters a sense of matched expectations—which in turn drive ROI (return on investment) on advertising, public relations, direct marketing, online communications, and social media marketing.
Relationship Marketing: Kotler also sees the impressive scope of the holistic approach to relationship marketing as a vital growth driver. By treating a company’s multifaceted business relationships with all stakeholders as valuable company assets, holistic marketers build an even more valuable asset: stable, long-term networks based on mutual prosperity.
Of course, the most important relationship is with the customer—with the emphasis on long-term customer retention, customer relationship management (CRM), and customer lifetime value (CLV)—but holistic marketers see literally everyone the company deals with as a constituent with the power to impact the success or failure of the business. This includes employees and partners (subcontractors, retailers, suppliers, distributors, channel members, agencies) as well as the financial community (investors, shareholders, analysts), regulatory agencies, and competitive firms.
Performance Marketing | Societal Marketing: The holistic approach to performance marketing goes beyond the analysis of immediate financial returns, such as sales revenue, to long-term value drivers, such as customer satisfaction, customer loss rate, product quality, and market share. However, holistic marketers also consider non-financial returns to the business and to society that are more difficult to quantify, including the legal, ethical, social, and environmental effects of the business.
By positioning the company as a socially responsible partner engaged in ethically sound business practices—such as environmentally-friendly production and meaningful community interaction—this holistic approach extends a company's sphere of influence beyond customers and other stakeholders to society in general. Often called societal marketing, this component of holistic marketing has become increasingly focused on environmental issues.
What Is Holistic Relationship Marketing?
Holistic relationship marketing considers all of a company’s business relationships as valuable company assets. The most important relationship is with the customer—especially customer retention—but holistic marketers also treat everyone else the company deals with as a constituent with the power to impact the success or failure of the business, including employees, partners, the financial community, regulatory agencies, and competitive firms.
What Is Holistic Performance Marketing?
Holistic performance marketing goes beyond the analysis of immediate financial returns, such as sales revenue, to long-term value drivers, such as customer satisfaction, customer loss rate, product quality, and market share. Holistic marketers also consider non-financial returns to the business and to society, including the legal, ethical, social, and environmental effects of the business.
What Is the Difference between Holistic Marketing and Market Segmentation?
The main difference is that market segmentation is the process of dividing a target market into defined customer subgroups based on their differences and holistic marketing is focused on unifying a market by identifying shared goals.