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?