What is Marketing?

Over recent weeks, I have seen a number of recruitment advertisements from small and medium-sized firms advertising roles described as marketing assistants or marketing executives. When you read the job specifications for these posts, you tend to find that the jobs contain work tasks more usually associated with graphic designers, web designers or sales representatives.
I know that distinguished marketing academics and professionals are regularly frustrated at their profession being incorrectly defined in this way.
So what is marketing?
The Oxford Dictionary of Marketing describes the function as follows:
Marketing is a formal business discipline originating in the USA at the turn of the 20th century. The profession, it is argued has gone through five stages:

  1.  The Age of Production:  This stage began shortly after marketing being formally defined and ended in the 1930s.  At this stage, marketing activity was constrained by the limitations of production.  The focus in companies was to produce as much as possible; as efficiently as possible.  Marketers focus was in ensuring the widest possible distribution of the products produced.
  2. The Age of the Product:  Marketing’s focus was not on cost leadership or distribution but on ensuring that the product itself would attract customers.  The focus was on product attributes, quality, performance and design.  Many of these concepts remain in modern marketing.
  3. The Age of Sales:  Here the focus was on pushing whatever the company had to sell.  This was the era of aggressive promotion as evidenced in the television series Mad Men.  Corporate thinking was that if you pushed any product hard enough it would sell.  Such sales tactics, the hard sell, could be risky as it could put consumers off and possibly drive them into the hands of competitors.  This developmental stage lasted until the late 1950’s.
  4. The Age of the Customer:  Some marketing academics believe we are currently coming to the end of the age of the customer which began in the 1960s.  This era places the customer at the centre of all marketing activity.  rather than making a product and then trying to find customers to buy it, products are specifically designed to meet the needs of distinct customer groups.  Critical to this era is customer segmentation and market research.
  5. The Interactive Age: This is the age of networking, massive choice, content sharing and content acquisition.  The aim is to let your customers become your marketers.  Many marketing academics we are at the start of this age with the rise of social media.  However, it must be stressed that interaction should not be only through electronic means.  It is still important that businesses interact with their target customers by more traditional methods.

Marketing is no longer the simple facilitation of commercial exchanges and transactions between producers and consumers.  Every contact a business has with its customers is a marketing dialogue, from initial sales calls to after sales service and the investigation of consumer complaints.

Marketing’s initial focus was on the producer not the customer.  It was getting the right products to the right consumer at the right price.  It was assumed that the producer controlled the market.  This assumption is no longer valid.

Take the example of the market for milk.  it is not the producer, the farmer, who controls the market for milk; it is the retailer in the form of the large supermarket chains.

Many of the advertisements for marketing jobs that I see still seem to treat marketing professionals as if they are working in the age of production or the age of sales.  Many see marketing as a subset of sales or as a subset of promotion.  In truth, sales and promotion are subsets of marketing.

Some firms, such as Hewlett-Packard see marketing not as the responsibility of a silo department but as a responsibility of everyone within the organisation, from the CEO down.

Marketing’s role is to develop a market-centric or customer-centric attitude throughout an organisation.  It is therefore imperative that marketing is closely linked to your overall business strategy and that it is central to the functionality of the senior management team.

Finally, lets look at the definition of marketing strategy.  The Oxford Dictionary of Marketing gives the following definition.

Marketing strategy is a series of planned choices about which part of the market to focus upon and how to compete within that target market.  These choices are based upon a thorough analysis of the ways and means of addressing target markets and customers.  Market segmentation and positioning are key to the development of a marketing strategy and it should put a customer focus on the overall strategic goals of an organisation.

Segmentation and positioning demand the development of a distinctive marketing mix.  Products and services must be designed with distinct customer groups rather than treating the market has homogeneous. Positioning ensures that your products are given a unique place in the minds of consumers which is distinctive from that of your competitors.

Marketing strategy is about making the most of your company’s strengths whilst exploiting the weaknesses of your competitors.