The Definition Of Marketing

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.”

The Chartered Institute of Marketing says it’s “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

And the American Marketing Association prefers “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.”

But I, of course, have an alternate definition, which is this: Marketing is a process of recognition. It is the process by which you recognize your customers and the process by which they recognize you.

You might wonder why we need another definition when we already have at least three on the books. What those three are lacking, though, is an understanding that marketing isn’t a one-way street. Marketers -- good ones, anyway -- aren't snipers, finding unsuspecting customers and forcibly thrusting products on them. They are collaborators. They are relationship-builders. It takes two to consummate a successful marketing act.



This concept of recognition exists in the hyperniche beachhead strategy advocated by Geoffrey Moore in “Crossing the Chasm.” The more specific your target market, says Moore, the better you can articulate how you’ll be useful to them. The better you articulate, the easier it will be for your customers to recognize that you’re talking to them -- even better if your communication is consistent with how your customers self-identify and define their peer group. A target market of retail chains with 10-20 stores is not as useful as, say, a target market of pharmacy chains with 10-20 stores.

But that example only refers to the external. Your customer has a pharmacy chain. They are a Fortune 500 company. They run after-school programs. Their organization might be such that your product could find a home there. What, then, makes the difference as to whether or not they buy?

You recognize them, as your customer. They recognize you, as a company that supplies businesses just like theirs. But most importantly, they recognize themselves, reflected in you.

This recognition tells them that you understand each other, that they can trust you, that you speak the same language and sing off the same song sheet. It tells them that you share their motivations and aspirations, and that, if they do business with you, they will be contributing to their own success.

This is what Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why,” was talking about when he said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it… The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

And that is what marketing is truly about: it is the way you recognize people who believe what you believe.

What do you believe?

7 comments about "The Definition Of Marketing".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, May 18, 2012 at 11:55 a.m.

    Nowadays the word means communication, which is handy for my communication classes because with nearly any source I find that uses the word 'marketing' I can often use the same information after searching and replacing with 'communication.' 40 years ago in my college marketing class, however, the number of marketing functions also included distribution activities like transportation and storage, as well as business functions like standardization, financing, risk bearing, buying, and selling. Somehow it all became 'selling' (through communication) because that function requires the least technical knowledge, perhaps.

  2. STEVE CLIMONS from Crosssover Creative, May 18, 2012 at 12:29 p.m.

    Here, Here.....they recognize themselves, reflected in you..Nice and the basis for being appealing.

  3. Ruth Barrett from, May 18, 2012 at 12:38 p.m.

    Definition based on recognition allows for the basis of a relationship to be giving as much as selling and interconnected, not just connected. Mr. Moore warned all of us high tech marketers off doing missionary work and just today Seth Godin reminds us to "shun the non-believers." It's not just targeting by the numbers and it's not just "engagement." And, yes, I agree 100%, it begins with the question, "What do you believe" and it's a two-way street. Thanks for the post.

  4. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, May 18, 2012 at 5:52 p.m.

    When it comes to the small portion of marketing that is communication based, this is a very nice way to consider it. And, marketing is a far broader discipline that encompasses a great many activities. Despite a rush to ignore the past, the 4Ps remain the best way to define marketing and to establish the role of communication within the field,

  5. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, May 19, 2012 at 12:32 a.m.

    Thanks so much for these comments! Doug, I actually think there's a high amount of consistency between this model and the 4Ps. Don't you think the price of a Lamborghini is more than its price? It's a message: who is this vehicle meant for? What kind of image is it designed to convey? Most 4P diagrams I've seen have "target market" at the junction point. Getting product, price, place and promotion right means that you have accurately recognized your target market and that they resonate with what you've done across each of those categories.

  6. Walter Sabo from SABO media, May 20, 2012 at 7:07 a.m.

    EXCELLENT common sense, real world piece. Thank you

  7. John Malmo from John Malmo Marketing Consulting, Inc., May 21, 2012 at 3:43 p.m.

    At the risk of sounding disagreeable, the above definitions are a little shallow, and the AMA definition clearly was written by a committee. In homage to the father of modern marketing, the late Ted Levitt of the Harvard B School, marketing can be defined in four words: "Maximizing a company's assets." "Recognizing existing opportunities and creating new opportunities that make the most profitable use of a company's assets."
    "Promoting, selling, distributing, communicating," are not marketing. They all are tools of marketing, and not even the most important ones. The Delta Airlines CMO last year created $600 million in new revenue by recognizing that Delta's passengers are a brand asset. He will maximize that asset this year to the tune of $1 billion more than the cost of a ticket from here to there. The cost of improperly defining marketing is that then nobody is responsible for marketing.

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