What Is Marketing?

 In Marketing Strategy

Let’s face it, to the average business person, marketing equals promotion.

Marketing is what you say and how you say it when you want to explain how awesome your product is and why people should buy it.

Marketing is an ad. Marketing is a brochure. Marketing is a press release. And more recently, Marketing is a Facebook page or a Twitter account.

Marketing, to many business people, is simply selling at a larger scale.

The reality, is that marketing sits at the intersection of the business and the customer – the great arbiter of the self interests of the business and the needs of the buyer. As the global economy settles into a new normal of consistent doubt, Marketing has an identity problem, a brand perception gap, maybe even a crisis of confidence.

“Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.”  ~ Milan Kundera

When I transitioned out of a successful sales career almost 15 years ago, most of my peers thought I was crazy. The head of our division hung up on me (it wasn’t the first time).

Increasingly, after more and more conversations with real customers, I had bought in to the idea that marketing represented the future. I sold what was “in the sales bag.”

But I wanted to help shape the future. Naive? Probably. Delusional? Certainly. Possible? Definitely!

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

Marketing is not about who can talk faster, or close better. It is about deep psychological understanding of customer needs. Steve Jobs had this gift better than almost any example. Henry Ford. Thomas Edison. Every innovation in the history of the world combined an uncanny understanding of human needs and the innovative vision to deliver it.

“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” ~ David Packard

If business is composed of marketing and innovation, and marketing is about deep customer insights, then marketing is the job of every employee.

“Social media” has only made this point painfully clear: every employee is an extension of the brand. The brand serves to meet the needs of the customer and the business serves to innovate.

Wir Sitzen Alle Im Marketing!

I’m not sure Google translator gave me the right translation but whether you are in finance, or sales, marketing or the owner of a small business, we are all in marketing.

What is Marketing? I did a search on this term to look for some inspiration and found this recent article from Reliving MBA Days that does a great job reviewing the basics of marketing.


This post was a long time coming. What is your definition of Marketing? Let me know what you think in the comments below and follow the conversation on Twitter,  LinkedInFacebook.


Photo by: Jacob Botter

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Showing 44 comments
  • Dirk Heuff

    Marketing (to me) is the
    – creation,
    – maintenance, and
    – expansion
    of mutually profitable relationships between ‘supplier’ and ‘customer’.

    The problem with this definition (and most others) is that it does not give room to sales.
    By trying to define what marketing is, we tend to also stress its differences with for example sales, which results in a semantic discussion on definitions and differencens, which does not stimulate/enable the necessary/crucial but very often absent integration of marketing and sales activities.

    Some personal thoughts on the other definitions used:

    It seems Kundera puts all other functions as being inferior/supportive (my words for lack of better) to marketing & innovation. Do owners/shareholders of businesses see it the same way? Why is that so?

    I agree with Drucker but can it be that he is overlooking something? Sometimes (potential) customers do not know (or unable to express even a slight hint) what their need is….

    Totally agree with Packard. Sadly not a lot of marketeers are willing to / capable of ‘admitting’ this.

    The ‘we are all in marketing’ seems a bit too much hype for me. I have yet to find non-marketeers who are inspired/motivated by this statement.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Dirk, VERY interesting observations. I don’t disagree with your definition at all. I do think the “marketing and innovation” quote was meant to reference the process of marketing (knowing the customer so well that you have the products they need) and innovation (delivering these solutions better than others could). That is how I read his quote.

      (Disclosure: I love the Drucker quote) I agree with Drucker and thins he really means that you truly know the customer inherently and deeply and that is how you can anticipate needs that customers may not be able to articulate themselves. I think Steve Jobs stated something to this effect at one point.

      And fair point on the “we’re all in marketing” thing. I guess I got carried away! 😉

  • Irving Frydman


    Thanks for a great post. This is an excellent primer on the value marketing brings. As you mentioned with a backdrop of economic uncertainty, there is a credibility gap found among non marketers. Their view at times,is limited to a small number of marketing produced assets without appreciating the overall contributions of marketing.

    How can marketers change these misconceptions? Your primer does help. Perhaps this can be fodder for a future blog post.

    Irving Frydman

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Irving. Yes, this is just a primer. We should deal with how we close this gap in the future. I have some previous posts on this as well.

  • Luis

    Hi!, I think Marketing is each and everything that makes you sell MORE.

    • Michael Brenner

      Luis, not sure I agree. Sell more of what? of anything? Marketing needs to also help determine what niche the company can supply uniquely.

  • Eric Wittlake

    I won’t pontificate on what marketing is, you have done that nicely here. I want to add a note on the mindset I believe marketers need.

    “Marketing should serve and respect the audience.”

    For marketing to sit at the intersection of the customer and the business, they can’t keep shouting the company’s message. Instead they need to show a genuine interest in the business’s potential customers and work to make their lives better. Done well, the benefits will come back to them.

    Nice break from your Tuesday/Thursday schedule!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Eric, I agree completely and like that you brought in the notion of respect. I try to teach my kids the same thing about going in the water at the beach. You don’t need to fear it, you don’t need to avoid, you shouldn’t take it for granted. Just respect the power!

      I’m off for vacation tomorrow so thought i would mix it up a bit! Have a great rest of the summer.

  • Caimin | Genius Startup

    “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”


  • Timo Elliott


    My favorite, from Howard Gossage:

    “People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

    Replace “ad” with “marketing” and you have the definition of “pull”.


    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Timo, you always know just how to break things down to their simplest level. It’s a real gift!

  • Josh Duncan


    Couldn’t agree more with your post. The Drucker quote is my favorite of the bunch but they are all very good answers. I am not sure how to address the confusion with advertising and promotion but do think it is an issue (and do find it ironic that marketing has awareness problem).

    I also think Seth Godin does a great job answer this question while explaining the difference between marketing and advertising. Check out https://www.thedefinitionofmarketing.com/



    • Michael Brenner

      Josh, thanks so much for that link. It is perfect. There is a reason Seth has been able to make a living doing what he does: he answers the big questions in really simple and clear ways.

  • E. Dueck

    Hello Michael,

    I enjoyed the article; great quotes and summary!

    Translated back into (literal) German “Wir Sitzen Alle Im Marketing!” means “We are all sitting in Marketing!”. If you want to use this phrase in the future, which I think you should, try “Wir alle sind im Marketing!” instead.

    Regards from Germany,

    E. Dueck

    • Michael Brenner

      I figured the translation was off and was hoping some German-speaking friend would help clarify for all of us. Thank you!

  • Jim Uchneat

    Great discussion.

    I think of marketing as two simple things, perhaps not so simple. Know your customer so well that you can make yourself attractive to be found by them and then accelerate their buying process for selecting you.

    Attracting customers is about connecting with them based on what they care about. Accelerating their buying is about anticipating their buying process needs and feeding them the right information at the right time in the way they need it.

    The challenge with today’s customer centric marketing is the need to address markets of one. It requires very different thinking and processes.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Jim, I think you are hitting on one of (maybe) the 2 main themese of this whole blog: focus on customers by delivering great content that helps THEM and the second is the transition to a social-digital business mindset that allows the “interest community” (those aligned by common interests, including the brand employee) to serve itself.

  • Jon Friedman

    Perhaps you should expand the definition of marketing to include selecting target markets. A marketer can’t just “know the customer” today. You need to know the customer (or the potential range of customers) of tomorrow, their needs, what alternatives will be available and what competitors will be offering at some point in the future, and what your company can offer at that point. That analysis leads to strategic decisions about who the company will target, what it will offer, how it will reach the target customers (channels), and decisions about pricing, packaging, ongoing support and many other topics.

    This analysis and these decisions may not be as obvious to people on the outside as branding, advertising and communications, but they are strategic and usually are only be performed by marketers (or general managers wearing marketing hats).

    I would argue that in many industries (certainly high technology) targeting, and all of the decisions that flow from that, are more important for justifying the marketing group than branding, communications and lead generation.

  • Jon Friedman

    Actually, I see that the linked article on “What is Marketing” at https://relivingmbadays.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/what-is-marketing/ covers most of the points I was making.

    The key idea is that activities like “opportunity identification” and “new product development” (to use the terms in the article) are frequently overlooked and should always be included in a discussions of what marketing brings to the company.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Jon,

      I agree. Once I saw their article, I realized they covered these basics so I focused on some other key points.

  • Scott

    Marketing is…

    …one half of an unfinished symphony.

    Whether marketing communications, product/solution marketing, experience marketing, brand, advertising, demand generations, social media, or anything else, the balance of the melody is “sales”.

    “Sales” is in quotes because this word is also incomplete when it stands on its own.

    “Sales and marketing” is a “complete sentence” containing an objective and a verb (you decide which is which – it works either way). The complete story requires a need (organic and/or generated), a solution (functional and/or emotional and/or aspirational), and a method of connecting these two.

    Are the Apple stores (drop a dollar in the “Apple is over used as a case study” jar) “sales” or “marketing”? Yes, they are. When you attend a tradeshow, are you being sold to or marketed to? Is the special offer via an email sales or marketing?

    The classic sales continuum starts with “awareness” and journeys to “advocacy”. Each is touched by marketing and sales activities. Some of the steps have been considered more “marketing” (awareness, interest, consideration, loyalty, advocacy) and others more sales (preference, purchase). But this may not hold as true today as in the past (if it ever really did).

    I propose that the distinction is in the mind of the person being “marketed” or “sold” to. Some look to avoid the sales process, investing time researching and learning on their own, while some jump happily into the sales experience as soon as they decide (on their own or via external influence) they indeed have a need to fill.

    The stereotype is that the car buying experience is to be avoided; yet many flock to the Apple store (another dollar) for training and workshops and “just looking around” that often result in the purchase of new software or accessories.

    Some are more motivated by the functional differences of the product or the price; some want an account exec or sales associate to work with them through the process. They want to be “sold” to.

    Others are more attracted to the story, the message, the meaning, they may be quick to advocate and/or associate themselves with the solution. (“I’m a Cadillac guy”)

    So if the distinction is in the eye of the recipient, so is the definition.

    At best, sales or marketing is the emotional, functional, and aspirational experience that offers solution to my need where, when, and how I want it.

    At worst, it is an interruption manipulation that upsets and annoys.

    Just like music, a limited number of notes (8 in music, a few more in sales and marketing) can be combined into endless songs, both good and bad.

    • Michael Brenner

      Wow. I love that line “sales and marketing is a complete sentence” and will promise to attribute the quote because I will likely use it often. Thanks for your insights.

  • Scott

    One last thought
    When are sales/marketing successful? When they are:

    Targeted | Who are you trying to reach and with what message, call to action? What are you trying to do? This should include a targeted Audience and Objective.

    Relevant | How are you being relevant to their needs, wants, desires. Is your Message and Medium appropriate and compelling?

    Differentiating | How are you different from other solutions, alternatives? What makes you stand out.

    Orchestrated | Are all the marketing, sales, and execution touch points aligned?

    Measured | How do you know you are reaching your objective?

  • Howie at Web Choice

    I disagree with a lot of this Michael. I also have many years direct B2B sales behind me. I view B2C marketing as selling minus the personal relationships because what you sell doesn’t have the margins and profits that enable a direct sales person to sell for you. So you need ‘Stuff’ to do the selling for you. Pepsi can’t afford to send a person to every house and sell. But they can afford to reach via TV.

    Which is why in marketing emotion is often key because people without emotion will switch brands and products on a whim over simple things like price because that relationship is not there to ensure the value proposition is reinforced.

    For B2B there are now digital ‘marketing techniques’ that can generate leads but you still pretty much need a direct sales person to close the deal. None of the ‘stuff’ you mentioned will do that in my opinion. Though all that ‘stuff’ can assist.

    • Michael Brenner

      Howie, I believe you may have misread the article. What I am saying is that marketing does not just mean promotion. It needs to focus on the customer. And because that is core to a successful business of any kind, it is the job of every employee. I believe in the importance of sales and count many sales people as my brothers and sisters in arms toward the same objective of meeting customer needs in a way that propels our own business to success. I hope we could at least agree on those 2 points: customers are important, sales and marketing are important.

  • Jorge

    Marketing is the science that study the way to satisfy the needs and wishes of consumers with products, They study the conduct and behaviour of consumers, they life style, they belief, they religion to have a comprehensive understanding of the target of your product and satisfy them with your product.

  • Scott

    Midnight realization/correction – 7 notes in music – A, B, C, D, E, F G; 8 in a musical scale which is what was in my head – A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

    • Michael Brenner

      I gotcha. I figured that was what you meant 😉

  • Ken Dauer

    Marketing is the process of identifying and building a mutually beneficial connection between two parties.

    • Michael Brenner

      Ken, thanks so much for that. I agree completely.

  • Tony Dowling

    Great article! I love these discussions. Although I always end up going round and round in my head with it all!

    I wrote a similarly themed post a few months back and got similar reactions. But I would always pose two questions when looking at this

    1) What is the ultimate aim of marketing, the marketing dept. marketing people, the marketing function et al? Isn’t it to sell ‘stuff’ in some form or other?
    2) As our potential customers get more and more sophisticated and demand falters in the face of ever increasing supply, isn’t marketing simply an increasingly sophisticated way of trying to get our stuff sold?

    Simple maybe, but clearly not simplistic – it just bothers me that people seem to want to break these things down into various elements in order to feel better about what they are doing?

    Why differentiate it all? Obviously in terms of developing functional specialists, and attracting talent etc. it might be useful to be so specific – but surely we are all in it to get to the same end game – A sale, or a profit or whatever (Not for profits not withstanding)

    Everyone on the sports team is part of the same team arent they? Even if they play different postions!

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Tony, it is a circular argument. If you say the aim of marketing is to sell stuff, then marketing will be very “promotional” which in this day and age (and probably always) makes people not want to buy stuff. But when you focus on meeting customer needs, you are in the best position to earn their purchase. Very slight and subtle but important distinction for me.

      So marketing needs to become an engine of customer need fulfillment. Not of selling (or promoting) stuff.

      Now I agree with you on the sports analogy. Same team, different skills, same objectives, all equally important!

  • Shalini

    My definition of marketing is: It is a vehicle that delivers the tools to help both the customer and business understand the need or desire for each other’s partnership.

  • Pradeep Grover

    Agreeing with Mr Drucker – business is marketing & innovation, I opine marketing is a business function of continuous value creation. It a function which encompasses total value chain & not alone sales.
    Identifying customer touch points & creating positive and competitive customer experience is marketing. All business functions play the role – sales, design, supply chain, quality, finance etc…Sales is one of the link in marketing chain.
    Strength of weakest link in the value chain is the marketing strength of any organization. Hence with one weak line, sales, profits & business sustainability cannot be generated.
    Marketing integrates business front end with business backend.

  • Tshepo

    Marketing is the performance of business acts that direct the flow of goods and services from the producer to the customer.

  • Stephanie Wu

    It is interesting to look at this question, becasue as a marketing person, you may ask this question many times to yourself.and also want to expain to you boss, this is marketing, not brochure, not PR, not….

    I think marketing will be the expert to slove the following three question:

    1. What do we sell?
    2. Where should we sell?
    3. How to sell it?

    Yes, the target is customer, media is market, and marketing person is the key role.

  • John Counsel

    I’ve read nothing here that dissuades me from the conclusion, reached four decades ago, that when most people talk about “marketing” what they’re really talking about is “market communications” — and most of them are, in reality, sellers who think that “marketing” is just a less confronting word than “selling”.

    Rob Frankel, in his book “The Revenge of Brand X”, offers a simple test: if anyone in an organisation has a title, business card or door or desk plaque saying “Sales & Marketing”, you can be 100% certain that it’s a sales outfit that’s clueless about marketing.

    My favourite metaphor for differentiating marketing and sales is duck hunting: the marketer knows where the ducks are, what kinds they are, when duck season starts and finishes, what decoys and hooters, etc, work best, knows how to get the ducks in the air at the right time and place, loads the shotgun, takes aim and fires.

    Then the sales team go and bring back the dead and wounded ducks.

    When the salespeople have to do more than that, it’s because the marketers haven’t done their job properly.

    Harsh, I know, but the truth usually is.

    As for “sales and marketing being a complete sentence”, it reveals the speaker’s profession as a seller. It’s a complete sentence in the same way that “tyres and motor vehicles is a complete sentence” or “cart and horse is a complete sentence”. The syntax may be accurate, but the order is less so. When you put the cart before the horse, you risk going out backward.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks John. Not only is that a lot to think about, I really like the way you explain it. You must be in marketing!?

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