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What is marketing?

A real definition of marketing

I’ve run across so many definitions of the word marketing, and I am always underwhelmed when I read them. Here’s one from dictionary.com:

“The action or business of promoting and selling products or services.”

It’s been 17 years today since I founded this business (and if I’m getting as old as Yoda, I hope I’m getting as wise as Yoda!), so I thought the timing would be great to directly address the question What is marketing?  During my tenure here, I have learned that “marketing” is one of the most misunderstood, vague terms in the English language. It’s almost like the word “love;” there are so many ways to define it.

Marketing– and the comprehensive understanding of it– is something that is vital to the success of any organization. Defining it too narrowly is sometimes the biggest error in business, because it ends up being relegated to a couple of people who pump out a few brochures now and then and maybe update the company website.

Here are some of the definitions I have heard over the years:

“Marketing is advertising – oh, plus promotional products”
“Marketing is advertising and sales”
“Marketing is your branding and all you do to communicate to your customers”
“Marketing is when you get your advertising, online and sales working together”
“Marketing is what you do to bring in sales”

But the problem is, all of the above definitions are too narrow. If you go to business school (or look in a business dictionary) you might learn about the “4 P’s of marketing” – Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. Here’s the gist.

  1. Product means refining your products or services to be competitive and give you an advantage.
  2. Price means setting the right price method and level to make your product competitive.
  3. Place means deciding where and how to distribute your product or service. From your location? Online? Through dealers?
  4. Promotion means determining how to reach your target customers most effectively with your message: advertising, sales, online, direct marketing, etc.

But we see that within the above points, there are still issues that need to be addressed to determine the answers to those four parameters!  Like this:

#1 Issue – Product: If you don’t have a clear vision of the future and the marketplace, you can’t determine what your product offerings should be.
#2 Issue – Price:  If you haven’t analyzed your competition and chosen where you can position yourself in the marketplace, it’s really guesswork determining your price.
#3 Issue – Place:  If you haven’t chosen your target markets yet, how can you decide how to reach them through distribution channels?
#4 Issue – Promotion:  If you haven’t chosen message and brand, how can you start a promotional campaign?

And what about tracking– nailing down sale goals, online goals, targets, and seeing if they’re being met? Without that, how can you do a good job of marketing?

Clearly, you can’t just nail down the 4P’s and have a complete marketing strategy.

Here is how, after years of experience with hundreds of real clients, we at Tenato Strategy Inc. define marketing:

“Marketing is all of the strategic research, decision-making, actions and analysis required to grow an organization toward its ideal vision.”  Tenato Strategy Inc.

That’s a lot, but that’s what it takes to get it right. That also means that all of these activities are a part of the function of marketing:

•    Market Research
•    Strategic Planning
•    Product Line
•    Pricing
•    Sales Forecasting
•    Sales Methods
•    Advertising
•    Branding
•    Social Media
•    Communications
•    Public Relations
•    Tracking/Analysis
•    Online marketing
•    Customer Service
•    Location and Interior Merchandising
•    Proposal Creation/Estimating

While it might be true that in an organization, not all of the above functions are considered part of the “marketing department” per se, we would argue that it is imperative to have input from a strategic-level marketing person into how each of the above activities is best done to optimize results for the organization.

Now, I have one interesting footnote for you:   As some of you know, we rebranded our company in 2011, from Start Marketing to Tenato Strategy. Moving from the word “marketing” to “strategy” was a conscious decision. Despite our always having had a broad definition of the word “marketing”, we realized that we do not have a big enough voice to change what the world already defines as marketing, which is, as detailed above, very narrow. Using the word “marketing,” nobody expected our firm to offer strategic input on product offerings, pricing, or the overall vision of the company. This was a misperception we had to change. They just thought we’d do websites, and “stuff that made them look pretty”.  But we are about a lot more than the frosting; we want to make sure the cake is right too!  That way, you get sustainable results from marketing– real, profitable revenue growth, and bring in the ideal customers, and sell them the best possible offering.

One more thought: Metaphorically, I have always thought of marketing as a puzzle. Each strategic element is a piece of the picture. If you fit all the pieces together, it makes a consistent, clear picture that the customer can understand and relate to. If you’re missing pieces, or put them together wrong, it muddies up the whole picture. For example, imagine you have a high end brand, a top notch message,  but you’re under-charging for your services. The potential customer thinks, “Hmm, maybe this company isn’t quite as good as its competitors; they must be missing something!”  One piece muddies the whole picture. It’s just like that for every piece of the marketing puzzle.

We hope we’ve opened your mind to our broader definition of marketing – because the broader definition you can conceive, the better job you will do of marketing, making each piece of the puzzle fit beautifully into the vision you create at the beginning.

How do you define marketing?  We would love to hear your perspective!  If you’d like to chat, please CONTACT US!

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About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."