Marketing – What’s Your Definition?

Marketing? View from beach house on Sunset Beach, Oahu where I didn’t think a lot about marketing.

I’m blogging on a plane coming back from a week in paradise. That’s part of my process for returning to the “real world”.  As a marketer I cannot help but think what’s behind the communications and actions of companies I engage with as a consumer. My time on Oahu talking with local residents and surfers in Haleiwa was a notable contrast to the techie social media marketing world I live in day to day.

In today’s digital age, things move fast. New models of communication establish themselves quickly and new categories of brand and consumer engagement continuously emerge. Defining the means for communicating with and engaging with customers is by no means static whether you’re trying to reach cosmopolitan buyers in London or tourists of a sleepy village on a tropical island.

Marketing evolves with consumer preferences, technologies and society. A specific definition of marketing is no more static than marketing itself.

Recently Heidi Cohen pinged me for a super-size roudup post on definitions of marketing. Here’s mine:

The practice of creating value for the mutual benefit of meeting consumer needs and business objectives. In action, that means knowing and meeting target audience/community information discovery, consumption and sharing behaviors with relevant and timely communications throughout the customer lifecycle. Engagment influence consumer behavior to drive revenue outcomes and strengthen relationships.

That’s just one definition and Heidi’s post came up with 72. That’s right, 72! If we ask that many people what marketing is and get such a variety of definitions, it’s no wonder marketing advice is such a crapshoot for so many companies. Asking a company marketer what they do should essentially define what marketing is for that company.

But I’m guessing it doesn’t.   A lot of companies are simply executing tactics without a broader vision of customer engagement trends. They’re in a perpetual state of experimentation to see what sticks and to see what works.  Does that work? Does it adapt? Does it focus on what’s important?

As our own online marketing agency evaluates it’s own marketing efforts, I also challenge our readers to reflect on what you’re really doing to communicate with and engage customers,  Are you executing tactics with uncertain outcomes simply because you’ve always done it that way? Are you continuing to experiment with things that have no clear connection to measurable results? Are you really engaging customers and developing relationships?

What’s your definition of marketing?


Lee Odden: @LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of TopRank's B2B Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.

View Comments (37)

  • Marketing is taking something that none present to making it known throughout a area..

    "Black Seo Guy "Signing Off"

  • Marketing is one of those terms that everyone knows what it means but can't be accurately described. At our company marketing is a process of using different visible mediums to let others know we exist.

    You're right about the confusion when people associate how to market with being the definition of it.

  • I've often said: Get 10 people with the word "marketing" on their business cards in the same room, ask them to define "marketing," and you'll wind up with 10 different answers. (I never tried it with 72 people!) Here's mine: "Marketing is every aspect of a company's communications that touches a customer or a potential customer." Which means that PR is marketing. The Web site is marketing. Sales is marketing. Customer service is marketing. Pretty much everything outside finance and operations, though those are one degree separated: When finance or ops screws up, customer service will be the first to hear about it. What's important, as your post indicates: Whatever a company's definition of "marketing" happens to be, everyone in that company has to be crystal-clear about it, otherwise the result will probably be wasted efforts working a cross purposes.

    • Thanks for that contribution Craig. It reminds me of an adage when I worked in sales: Every interaction with a customer or prospect is an opportunity for a sale - as in influence a positive outcome whether it's a transaction or just being helpful.

      Organizational congruence about marketing relies heavily on the leadership and vision within the company. That's why things like social media are as much about organizational change as they are about use of social applications. They're impacting belief systems within the corporate organization as well as with individuals.

  • To me...and honestly I'm no expert not like you, Heidi or the 72 responses her question yielded, however I am on the other side, I am a consumer...so therefore I do have some notion of what marketing is to me. I see it as an umbrella representing many philosophies; brands, products, companies and the consumer too. It's image, it's association, it's reputation and flavor (meaning preference). From my perspective as a consumer, marketing gets my attention when it creates an emotion within me; your job as a marketing company is to consider which emotion you want to target and be wary of which one you might hit.

    I don't envy your job.

  • Lee - I've been using this simple definition for about 10 years and it keeps getting more relevant with each passing year.

    Marketing is . . . getting someone with a need, to know, like and trust you.

    You can argue that like might be respect, but to me this is the simplest truth about marketing.

    • After re-reading my own definition, I see that brevity is far more sustainable. Thanks for sharing your definition John!

  • Lee, John is right in his definition. I use that line but I also think it needs to go one step further. I always try to keep it simple as well:

    Marketing is the process of...getting and keeping customers.

    • Winning and retaining - agreed. That's why I mention communications and engagement during the entire customer lifecycle in my rather long definition above. The tools to establish and maintain relationships are stronger now than ever. I think the challenge is teaching companies (not just individuals) how to use them.

  • It depends, right? For instance, I define "social marketing" as the process of converting your fans and customers into salespeople.

    Lately I've seen a lot of people encouraging a return to the "traditional" definition of marketing that includes the 4 Ps -- basically because we tend to think of marketing in the context of corporate/product communications. But in reality that's a dangerously narrow definition. GOOD marketing includes more than just promotion -- it touches on price, product and placement as well.

    As we continue into this decade of social media and "big data," we're going to see a LOT of convergence happening as the engineering, marketing, HR, support and management roles -- among many others -- begin sharing more and more information. Marketing professionals have a real opportunity to get a seat at the new management table, but ONLY if they can show that they grasp how all of this information works well together.

    The marketing role is a natural aggregation point for "social CRM" data, but to push that role, a marketer has show an understanding of the integration points -- most importantly, I think, they'll have to show that they understand sales. The magic "handoff" where a lead gets thrown over the wall to the sales team and *poof* they have their sales support metric simply doesn't float anymore -- marketing has to be able to get the feedback from the sales team and use that to improve the messaging. Engineering has to get the feedback on Twitter that the marketing team collects. HR needs to know who among the company's many LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook friends are potential employees.

    Marketing is best positioned to take a lead role in the big social data revolution, but we need to get ourselves as trained and savvy about data management as we are about promotion to get there.

    • I agree that convergence and data sharing create a real opportunity for savvy marketers at the CXO level to impact business strategy. Have you observed any particular companies making progress with the cross departmental data integration and sharing that you mention?

      • Well, lots of sales-focused case studies are emerging... For instance: http://barnraisersllc.com/?p=2896

        Has it broadened beyond sales/marketing/support? Well, even Groundspring from a few years ago had examples of integrating engineering into the process. But none of these examples are using big data...

  • I just listened to an interview with Brian Tracy and he defined marketing as "Going out and finding new customers" which I totally agree with. If what you're doing isn't getting your business more customers...it's not marketing.

    Plus he also stated that the average business spends only 11% of their time on marketing...ouch! It should be more like 80%... that's been my goal recently.

    • Those are interesting stats and depending on the company, 11% can be pretty low. Some say the best marketing you can do is improve product quality and customer experience. I suspect those investments don't get counted as "marketing" yet they certainly influence brand perception and word of mouth.

      • Improving your product quality and customer experience could be considered marketing if it helps your customers become evangelists for your business...but that's often impossible to measure, which is the only reason I wouldn't count it =)

  • Marketing is a fun beast to try to tackle because there are so many people and each one has a preferred method of being reached.

    One thing I am beginning to understand is that personalization is much more effective has mass emails and impersonal messages.

    I would rather talk to one person about their needs instead of talking to dozens who have different needs. Obviously, you need to reach the masses to be successful, but in doing so you have to make sure that you are catering to individuals who seek you out... Great post.

    • Thanks Boris. The personalization you're talking about is in part, achieved via great segmentation. Direct marketers have become masters at that. Finding a way to do so and scale enables personalized communications efficiently.

Related Post