What is marketing?

Do the academic definitions of our industry really tell us anything at all?

I’ve been working in marketing for more than 30 years, which makes me, by definition, a bit of an expert. Maybe even a lot of an expert.

I don’t claim to know everything. I don’t. Always learning, etc.

Someone who definitely knows more than me, is Philip Kotler. He wrote THE study text on marketing. Anyone who’s studied marketing will know the name, even if they can’t remember the detail.

Philip Kotler’s definition of Marketing:

“Marketing is a social and managerial process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others”.


You see, that’s the problem with intellectuals – they make everything sound more complicated than it needs to be. Sorry, but that definition leaves me none the wiser. I mean, it sounds sort of impressive – but more than 30 years after studying Kotler, I still don’t get what that means. And I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the English language.

Like my 16-year old says, “I speak English goodly”.

Maybe Kotler is more intelligent than me. It’s possible, I admit it.

But surely we can simplify that idea?

The American Marketing Association (AMA) has a different definition:

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.

OK, that’s definitely better, but for me, it still doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it. And it just feels a bit…. woolly?

At RHM, our job is primarily concerned with marketing communications – the bit that tries to persuade people to try products, buy products, stay loyal to products. Or to buy services, donate to charities etc.

So we do the advertising, the websites, the sales collateral, the campaigns, the social media, the direct marketing etc.

We don’t get involved in pricing.

We don’t do product development.

We’re not really involved in choice of distribution channels.

So yes, we just do the ‘promotion’ bit.

But the reality is that ALL marketing is about persuasion.

We create a product that we believe an audience (whoever they may be) will want to buy. We design it to be desirable or practical – or to fulfil a customer need. We price it so that we get the balance right between sales, profit and perceived value. We make it available in places where the audience is most likely to buy, or where they would expect to buy it. We create brand concepts and promotional campaigns and advertising to create awareness and desire and we make the experience of buying and using the product as enjoyable as possible, so they want to buy again, or tell their friends.

4Ps, and they’re all about persuasion. In a nutshell:

Marketing is the process by which we influence the behaviour of customers so that they choose your product over the other choices available to them.

There’s your definition right there.

That’s my definition. Bit easier to get your head around.

Up yours Kotler.

So if it’s all about persuasion and influencing behaviour – where do we start?

Well, you have to understand PEOPLE.

You have to KNOW your target audience. Know how they currently behave and what influences their behaviour. Why do they do what they do now? What problems to they face? What are their aspirations? What can they afford?

Why data and research are so important

At the heart of any good marketing strategy is insight. You can’t influence customer behaviour without understanding the customer.

Mark Ritson wrote a good article last year outlining why marketers should prioritise brand research ahead of developing a strategy. LINK: https://www.marketingweek.com/mark-ritson-marketers-skip-brand-research-doomed-fail/  And he wrote an even more insightful piece this year entitled ‘If you don’t invest 5% of your budget in research, you don’t know what you’re doing’ in which he argues (forcefully) that the BBC is right to invest heavily in market research to ensure they get their offering right. LINK https://www.marketingweek.com/mark-ritson-bbc-market-research/

5% of your marketing budget.

It’s difficult to argue against.

If you agree that marketing is about persuading people to think and act differently, so that they make the choices you want them to make, then how can you do that without understanding who they are and what makes them tick?

If you really understand your audience, you won’t just attract new buyers, you’ll be in a much better position to deliver the kind of brand loyalty that inspires almost irrational behaviours from customers. People who will buy your product over all other choices available to them. People who will refuse to buy any product, if yours isn’t available.

Think about it. The only way to grow market share is to persuade the customers you’ve got to continue buying from you, while persuading new customers to come on board.

There’s a great definition of brand loyalty, by Tony O’Reilly the former CEO and Chairman of Heinz.

He said, “My acid test … is whether a housewife, intending to buy Heinz tomato ketchup in a store, finding it to be out of stock, will walk out of the store to buy it elsewhere.”

Real loyalty doesn’t come from Clubcards or rewards schemes, although these are valuable tools. REAL loyalty comes from consistently high and reliable product quality aligned to a brand narrative that helps customers to believe in your brand, to really trust in it – above all others.

Coke is it.

Even when the Pepsi Challenge says it isn’t it.

Out of 10 owners said their cats preferred it. Are you one of those owners with an idiot cat?

Beanz means Heinz.

What is marketing?

It’s about persuasion.

Understand the customer.

Get them to consider your product. Get them to try it. Get them to buy it. Get them to buy it again. And again.

And build a relationship that’s unbreakable.