What Is Marketing?

How 10 Experts Define Marketing

I taught a class at the TS2 Show about lessons learned as a trade show marketer. After all the other students had left, a young exhibit manager approached me and asked, “Everybody in my company thinks of me as the trade show guy. How do I make them think of me as the marketing guy?”

He’s certainly not alone in his quest to grow more into a marketing role. To get into marketing, it helps to understand what exactly marketing is. So here are 10 experts’ definitions of marketing, plus for good measure my reactions to the strengths and weaknesses of their definitions.

1. "Marketing is not only much broader than selling;  it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.” — Peter Drucker

Management guru Drucker also advocates that marketing is everything, plus he provides reasons to back it up.

2. "Marketing is the process by which companies create customer interest in products or services. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business development. It is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves.” — Wikipedia

I like how this is so focused on both the strategic and functional aspects of marketing, but especially that it’s so customer-focused – the word customer is in it three times, more than any other word!

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3. “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” — American Marketing Association

This definition took the AMA years of debate to create. It is a very comprehensive, yet concise definition, encompassing the product development, marketing communications, pricing, and strategic aspects of marketing.

4. “Marketing is everything.” — Regis McKenna

Regis McKenna’s bold statement exemplifies the school of thought that everything you do – not just your products, pricing, promotion, and distribution, but even your billing, how you answer the phone, your speed of handling problems –it all affects how your customer perceives your company, so everything is marketing.

 5. “Marketing is the social process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others.” — Philip Kotler

This is more of an old-school, college-professor definition, which while accurate, is fairly cold. I think the “social process” part diverts attention from the business side, and “individuals” sounds more clinical than “customers” which is the gold standard in many of these definitions.

6. “Marketing is the process whereby society, to supply its consumption needs, evolves distributive systems composed of participants, who, interacting under constraints – technical (economic) and ethical (social) – create the transactions or flows which resolve market separations and result in exchange and consumption.” – Bartles

This is even more a college-professor definition. The idea of society evolving distributive systems seems to take the shine off of the inventiveness and initiative of individual marketers.

7. “Marketing is any contact that your business has with anyone who isn’t a part of your business. Marketing is also the truth made fascinating. Marketing is the art of getting people to change their minds. Marketing is an opportunity for you to earn profits with your business, a chance to cooperate with other businesses in your community or your industry and a process of building lasting relationships.” — Jay Conrad Levinson

This is just part of a passionate rant by Jay Conrad Levinson of Guerilla Marketing fame, which highlights the role of persuasion in marketing.

8. “Marketing is getting someone who has a need to know, like and trust you.” — Jon Jantsch (of Duct Tape Marketing fame)

Jantsch’s definition also picks up on Levinson’s theme of persuasion, at an even more personal level than Levinson.

9. Marketing is “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” — The Chartered Institute of Marketing

I like how the CIM’s definition is so concise and yet so all-encompassing, and how marketing’s job is to take care of the customer, while making a buck, too.

10. “Marketing is the art of telling a story to a consumer that they want to hear that lets them persuade themselves that they want to buy something.  Marketing is about selling something. Any definitions that skirt around that are missing the mark. Marketing is not about tools. Any definitions that lack an essence of strategy are incomplete. Marketing is about communicating value. The only way someone buys is if they feel there is an exchange of value for money spent. Many marketers miss this fundamental point. Marketing is persuasive. Let’s be honest, our job is to influence our customers.” — Seth Godin

This definition does go a step further in sharing what would disqualify a definition of marketing.  Seth Godin really touches on some of the down to earth metrics of marketing in a real and personal way.

The underlying thread in many of these definitions that resonates most with me is that marketing’s job is to understand what the customer needs and then to provide it – and that the job of marketing goes beyond the marketing department.

So if you want to have a greater role in marketing, then focus on how the entire experience your customers have in your trade show exhibits and displays creates more impetus for them to buy from you, rather than just the logistics of shipping your exhibit properties. At that point you’ve shifted your mindset into the realm of marketing.

Does that help? Whose definition do you like best? Let us know in the comments box below, or share a better definition of marketing that you prefer.

This article is by Mike Thimmesch and first appeared at www.skyline.com


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