19 September 2011

Biz 101: So What Is Marketing, Anyway?

by Freddy Tran Nager, Professor of Marketing + Founder of Atomic Tango; photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash…

Too many entrepreneurs and CEO’s tell me that they “don’t have money for marketing” or they’re “not ready for marketing yet.” What they’re really saying is that they don’t know what “marketing” means…

Many think marketing means advertising and other promotions, which actually constitute just a small part of marketing. In reality, marketing encompasses a broad array of responsibilities and activities:

  • product design and development
  • naming
  • location selection
  • distribution
  • market segmentation
  • customer relationships
  • pricing
  • sales
  • publicity
  • competitive analysis
  • community relations
  • and more

If a company has a name, a product, a price, a business card, even just an office, it’s performed marketing. Those elements might have been performed by non-marketers — for example, the product might have been designed by an engineer, the price set by the CFO, and the office leased by the investors — but they’re still subject to the forces and whims of the marketplace. If marketing doesn’t have sole responsibility for all these activities, then it should (and often does) significantly influence them.

What It Means For Management

Even if a company’s executives decide to hire an outside marketing agency or consultant (like myself), they must understand marketing fundamentals to monitor what their agency and consultant are saying and doing.

There’s another problem: some companies have fully established marketing departments, but they’re separate from publicity, advertising, and sales. That makes no sense, since publicity, advertising and sales are all part of marketing. Such functional silos result in inconsistencies and internal conflicts. No wonder most businesses underperform!

So What Is Marketing?

No two marketers agree on a definition — and that’s one reason why so many managers are confused about it. Even the American Marketing Association has a terrible definition of marketing:

“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.”

Smells like committee think. For a profession that supposedly excels at communications, that verbal gumbo is just embarrassing.

The authoritative Philip Kotler offers a more concise definition:

“Marketing deals with identifying and meeting human and social needs.”

That’s better… but a little broad. A company’s operations or HR departments might claim that their job is to meet “human needs.” And if a company doesn’t like its logo and wants to change it, which “human need” is that meeting? A logo is certainly a human preference, but “need” sounds too strong in that case.

Here’s the definition of marketing that I like and use:

“Marketing is the art and science of managing brands and relationships.”

You could argue that that is also very broad, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But this definition contains several key elements:

  1. Art: Marketing is the one business function where imagination and creativity are not only allowed, they’re encouraged. That’s why it attracts many creative professionals: writers, designers, photographers, musicians, filmmakers. That’s why I got into it.
  2. Science: At the same time, a truly professional marketer also relies on research, data collection, and analysis, just as any scientist would. With the rise of digital marketing, we marketers have much more valuable data than ever, which can tell us what is working and what is simply a waste of time and money.
  3. Brands: Your brand is your appearance, personality, and reputation rolled into one impression. Everyone has a brand — even individuals. (We tend to just use the word “reputation” when talking about people.) And your brand determines your ultimate value in the marketplace, influencing everything from how much you can charge for your services, what caliber of employees you can attract, how readily you can attain news-media coverage, and what investors are willing to pay for a share of your company. Marketing is responsible for creating, monitoring, enhancing, enforcing and extending that brand.
  4. Relationships: Marketing supervises all communications between the company and its stakeholders — not just customers, but also employees, competitors, news media, the government, and individuals and institutions. These communications must be strategically and sometimes creatively crafted. At the same time, the relationships must be cultivated using various tactics, from rewards programs to targeted pricing. When it comes to customers, marketing also determines which should be served and which should be divested.

Make It Personal

The definition, “Marketing is the art and science of managing brands and relationships,” applies to individuals as well as corporations. We all do marketing in our daily lives: If you’ve created a resume, applied for a job, or earned a college degree to enhance your credibility, that’s marketing. More personally, if you’ve tried to find a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, that’s marketing (with fewer quantitative analytics).

So marketing in business is merely an extension of something we already do. What distinguishes professional marketers is that they get paid to do it.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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