What is Marketing?

March 21, 2015

Marketing is often thought of as being synonymous with communications – understandably, because the responsibilities of many CMOs do not extend beyond communications.  But marketing has a broader mandate.  It’s true focus is on conceiving, communicating and delivering value to customers.  Marketing is the one business discipline that is focused outside the organization – on the business and competitive environment in which the organization is seeking to sell its products and services.  Marketing is concerned with understanding the utility that these products and services offer to customers.

The specifics of marketing has changed dramatically over the years.  People are always surprised when I observe that the original definition of marketing adopted by the American Marketing Association in the 1930s made marketing sound indistinguishable from logistics (“The performance of business activities that direct the flow of goods and services from producers to consumers”).  It was not until the 1980s that marketing was defined in terms of the 4Ps.

But the objective of marketing remains constant.  As its name suggests, marketing is about the activities required to bring a product to market.  Or, as Peter Drucker defined it, to understand the market so well that the company’s products sell themselves because they are so well aligned with customer needs.

We have lost sight of this truth that marketing is more about “pull” than “push” – that it is about delivering value to customers rather than manipulation.

As I see it, marketing is first and foremost the study of customer utility.  Understanding where and how a product or service delivers a benefit.  Secondly, marketing is about segmentation – understanding that customers have different needs, and that a sustainable company is one that understands the particular set of customers to which the company can deliver distinctive value.

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