What is Marketing?

The one curveball question all marketers get asked at some point is ‘what is marketing’…

This seemingly simple question is actually a complex and difficult one. The answer depends on who is asking and the context. Do we define marketing as a group of tactics (activities), as a function (the marketing team) or as a strategic approach (a customer-focused way of going to market)?

what is marketing

Defining marketing

All the things that marketers do day to day, from big things like managing corporate reputations and building sales pipelines down to tweeting and de-duping target lists are necessary parts of marketing. But if we define marketing as a daily laundry list, then we suffer from marketing myopia.

Marketers need to be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture if they are to succinctly explain to other functions what marketing is.

The fact that this is no easy task is shown by the fact that there are an average of 40,500 monthly Google searches for the term ‘what is marketing’.

Obviously, this is a question many people want answered. By comparison, only 9,900 people are asking “what is finance”. Similarly, “what is sales” is a question that on average occurs to only 4,400 people a month. So one could argue that sales is almost ten times better understood than marketing…

Why is marketing less clearly defined than other functions?

Marketing is both a function (group, team) and an activity. And in order to work effectively and achieve organisational objectives, marketing needs to work with other functions, such as sales, product management, HR and finance. In fact, David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, famously proposed that “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

Marketing is as important as it is difficult to define… Take for example Kotler’s famous definition of marketing as “meeting the needs of your customer at a profit.” Clearly, this definition goes far beyond marketing as a function, and would make R&D, customer service, finance and other functions part of marketing. Other more contemporary definitions often focus on branding and creating experiences through different media – see this link for a list of 72 (!) definitions of marketing: http://heidicohen.com/marketing-definition

With so many different definitions of marketing, it’s no wonder marketers are being asked to clarify what it is they do… Marketing is many different things to different people, depending on their role, organization and aims.

  • If you work for a start-up or are self-employed, chances are that you define marketing as everything you do that brings in new business.
  • If you work for a mid to large size firm, marketing is typically a group within the firm that coordinates external communications, from email campaigns and events to advertising
  • If you work in B2B marketing for a Fortune 500 firm, a large proportion of time is dedicated to internal communication, such as working with HR and management to create employee buy-in for organizational goals, and providing customer-facing functions such as sales and support desks with the tools they need to articulate complex value propositions and build long-term relationships with the various buyer personas that are involved in b2b purchase decisions.

But how can we define modern marketing more succinctly and simply? Pick your favorite definition below:

Or leave your preferred alternative definition in the comments section…

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