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Home | The Meaning of MARKETING


Sunday, August 7, 2011




Every so often a client will ask us the most fundamental of questions: “What is marketing?” Or, on occasion, something similar: “How do you define marketing?” If the question comes from someone new to marketing (such as someone in pharmaceuticals transitioning from a sales role to a marketing role), the question is not all that unexpected. But, when it comes from an experienced marketer, we find ourselves wondering about the reason for the question; they still teach things like this in basic marketing courses, don’t they?


As it turns out, of course, they do still teach the definition of marketing in college marketing courses. But, if you take a hard look at most of the college textbook definitions—or more conveniently—at the first page definitions from a Google search, what you find is really not all that helpful. What we mean by “helpful” is that most of these definitions of marketing aim to be so all-inclusive in a sentence or two that they really don’t give today’s hard-charging marketer much to go on. You might say that most of these definitions are about the theory of marketing, but not much about the practice of marketing.


To get more specific, let’s take a look at just a few that we found in our search:


--“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value to customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” (American Marketing Association—Approved, October, 2007)


--“Marketing is the social process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others.” (Philip Kotler)


--“My definition of marketing is the creating of demand and passion for customers. In marketing you need a product that includes emotion, design, status, and function. Then you communicate (those things) through PR, events, and advertising.” (Asian CMO for a major brand)


--“Marketing is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers and the strategy to use in sales, communications, and business development. It is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and themselves.” (Wikipedia)


Keep in mind, as we look at definitions like these more intently, that we are not saying they are incorrect. Just that they’re not as helpful, practically speaking, as they might be. But before we get to some ways to make a definition of marketing more helpful and more practical, lets take a look at some of the elements that, at least, these four definitions share in common.

There are definitely some things to like about these definitions…especially some things to like in what they share in common:


          --Marketing is about creating value for customers and companies;


          --Marketing is inherently a process—with an implied discipline;


          --Marketing is built upon identifying and satisfying needs & wants;


          --Marketing absolutely requires communicating.


No one would question that these are, indeed, key components of the function of Marketing. On the other hand, just as there are some things to note about what the definitions share in common, there are also some to note about what they miss in common.


We think there are 4 Essentials missing in each of these and, for that matter, in virtually all other definitions of marketing that we’ve come across. We even prefer to call these 4 Practical Essentials. They’re practical because they bring to life what every would-be winning marketer must do to succeed in today’s marketplace. For this week’s Boats & Helicopters we offer these 4 Practical Essentials…followed by, naturally, our own preferred definition of marketing. Oh, and by the way, getting back to why we sometimes wonder when experienced marketers ask us for a definition of marketing, perhaps it’s as simple as the ones in the textbooks don’t meet their day-to-day needs.


BOATS & HELICOPTERS—Toward a More Practical Meaning for Marketing

  1. It’s not sufficient any longer to simply refer vaguely to “customers” or “clients.” What’s needed to give more practical meaning to a definition of marketing is the inclusion of a critical qualifier: a pre-determined set or segment of customers or clients. 
  1. At its most basic level, marketing is about influencing and causing behaviors—behaviors that are beneficial to achieving the company’s business goals. No definition of marketing today should neglect to include this “must” outcome.
  1. No definition of marketing should exclude that single accountability required of every practitioner of marketing: to gain a real or perceived advantage over the competition. We cannot imagine anything more important to an operating definition of marketing than this…in today’s marketplace where so many products in so many categories perform so equally well.
  1. Finally, did you notice that in each of the four definitions we cited a key word was notably absent—the word “brand”? The words used instead were “products,” “services,” and “offerings.” Okay, you might argue that not every marketer in every company is marketing “brands.” But for most marketers by far the name of the game isn’t “product” or “offering” building. It’s brand-building.
  1. All of this leads then to our preferred, more practical definition of marketing:

“Marketing is the art and science of influencing—through the establishment of a valued relationship--a pre-determined set of target customers to prefer and choose one’s brand over the competition.”


It’s target-specific, behavioral, competitive, and brand-driven.

Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney


If you are thinking about attending the
Brand Positioning & Communications College
Open program scheduled for November 15-17, 2011,
please make your intentions known as soon as possible. 
To register or obtain more information,
contact Lori Vandervoort at or
call 800-255-9831 (620-431-0780) asap.


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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