What is Marketing?
A Simple Definition of Marketing

Go ahead. Ask 100 people, "What is marketing?" If you do, I bet you'll get 100 different answers. Here is a sampling of the answers you might get:

  • Advertising on TV, on the radio, or in magazines
  • Creating a brand for a company, including its logo and a catchy slogan
  • Creating a brand for a product, including the name of the product and the design of its package
  • Selling/Sales
  • Conducting focus groups to find out what people think of your product or your company

All of these are valid answers. Anyone who does one of these jobs could legitimately say they work in marketing. But these answers still don't give us a good definition of marketing.

The way I define marketing is anything you do to get or keep a customer. Is that broad? Yes! Too broad? No.

Did you know that it costs 2-10 times as much to sell to new customers vs. existing customers? Because of this, we must focus on keeping customers as well as getting customers if we are to run a successful business!

Marketing is composed of three distinct elements.

  • Research: Understanding what customers (or potential customers) want
  • Product Development: Creating products, services and experiences that satisfy those desires
  • Communication: Letting customers know that your products and services will satisfy their desires

When answering the question, "What is marketing?" most people focus on just the communication element. That's why they think of advertising and sales.

Peter Drucker said, "The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself." That perfectly describes what should be happening in the Research and Product Development stages.

Let's talk about the word "anything" from my definition. I literally mean anything at all that a business does to get or keep a customer. Here's a simple example.

What is Marketing - A Simple Example

In this example, you own a clothing store that sells business clothing to overweight women. The first thing you must do is understand your customer. Most women would prefer to be thin. For your customer, being overweight is a source of stress and low self-esteem. She wants clothing that fits, looks good, and gives her confidence in her body image.

Understanding these things about your customer, you develop products and services to satisfy her desires. First, you focus on the shopping experience itself. You leave lots of space between the clothing displays so she can move around easily. Nobody likes a cramped store, and the problem is only heightened when all of your customers are overweight.

Next, you name your store something that sounds classy - something a professional woman would be proud to say out loud when a friend asks her where she bought the pant suit she is wearing. Would she rather say she bought it at "Hoochie Mama's Haberdashery" or at "Ashley Emerson?" I think we both know the answer to that.

Finally, you do something ingenious. You change the sizes of your clothing. All the labels of your clothes reflect a size that is two sizes smaller than reality. Imagine your customer telling her coworker confidently, "Usually I wear a size 16, but the clothes at Ashley Emerson are designed for larger women. At Ashley Emerson, I wear a size 12."

Your customer is beaming with pride as she tells her coworker about your store. She's a raving fan - the best kind of advertising you can get! Most people don't think of changing labels in clothing as "marketing". That's what I mean when I say marketing is anything you do to get or keep a customer.

Is that lying? No! You are free to size your clothes however you like. It's your business, and a savvy business person will give the customer what she wants. In this case, you are not just selling clothing. You are selling self-esteem and confidence. Do you see the difference?

What is Marketing - Summary

So, what is marketing? It's...

  • Understanding what your customer really wants (hint: think beyond the obvious)
  • Creating products, services and experiences that satisfy those desires
  • Communicating with your customer to let them know you have a solution to their problem

Dave Smith is CEO of Functional Marketing and is a marketing strategy consultant for small businesses and entrepreneurs. He specializes in strategy, business joint ventures, systems/processes and information analysis. He sometimes accepts payment in product, which is why he jokingly says he "will work for food." Visit his website to learn more about his 100% risk-free marketing services.

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