What is Marketing?: How a Marketing Professional can Answer this Question


“What is Marketing?”

I was recently speaking with a friend who told me in passing conversation that she was on her way to meet someone that could help her create a Facebook advert for her small business.  When I said that I could have helped her, she said “oh, I didn’t know you could do that”, which led me to think, “what does she think I do?”

Humorous GIF of Monica and Rachel from Friends

What does Chandler do for a living??

When I’m asked what I do for a job most people politely smile and nod as if they understand, but I’ve recently come to realise that few people actually do.  It sometimes feels like it’s this mystical profession that has so many misconceptions, and I often feel like Chandler Bing in the TV show, Friends

Those in far removed professions innocently ask “what is Marketing?”, those that vaguely know what Marketing is ask “but what do you actually do?”, or there are those that think they know what it is, but actually rarely do.

The problem is, that on almost every occasion that I have been asked what I do, or what Marketing is, I am caught off-guard and so I stumble over my words and don’t really give a coherent answer.

When your day-to-day role is so variable, and when no two Marketing roles are the same, it genuinely is difficult to summarise into a conversational one-liner.

How to Define Marketing

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of definitions of Marketing, and each is a person, organisation or brand’s interpretation.

When researching this blog post I came across a very comprehensive list of 72 definitions of Marketing by Heidi Cohen.  You might want to check this out to see some of the definitions for yourself.

I found that Marketing has been defined previously for three main purposes:  dictionary, academic and corporate, but I did not find one that was both comprehensive and conversational.

Having analysed a number of definitions, as well as finding common themes, I also found many to be flawed or lacking in a particular area.

Aspects of Marketing

To help create an effective definition, I think we need to look at the various aspects of Marketing.

Further to their definition of Marketing, the Chartered Institute of Marketing goes on to classify areas of Marketing into six main headings: market research, marketing communications, brand management, direct marketing, advertising and public relations.

Marketing Profs, a very well respected organisation that describes themselves as offering “real-world education for modern marketing” lists 252 marketing ‘topics’ on their website, everything from “Ad copy” to “You Tube”.

Having had to think about how I personally categorise aspects of Marketing when devising my website I chose to summarise as follows:


Within each of these elements of the Marketing process, I have grouped Marketing activities together into a number of sub-headings.

  • IDENTIFY: Business Development

It cannot be denied that Marketing and Sales / Business Development go hand-in-hand, so there are often blurred lines between the two disciplines.  Market research and data analysis to identify trends in customer behaviour can make up part of the Marketing role.

  • ATTRACT: Corporate Identity, Brand Awareness

This is mainly about branding – developing and maintaining a brand, and managing the brand’s reputation.

  • ENGAGE & EDUCATE: Digital Marketing, Content Marketing, Event Management

Designing content for all medium in a Marketing strategy including on- and off-line, such as Company literature and presentations, websites, social media content, press releases, blog posts, content for emails, etc.  Content can take the form of visual content as well as written content.

Event Management might also sit within this category and could include trade shows and exhibitions, customer events, sponsorship events, fundraising events or even internal staff events.

  • RETAIN: Internal Marketing

Once Marketing and Sales have worked together to convert customers, it is then the responsibility of all staff to retain those customers through the service level and experience that they provide.  Internal Marketing generally relates to employee communications and might include newsletters, bulletins, instruction manuals or content for intranet sites.  Employees that feel involved and informed are almost always much more motivated to achieve organisational goals.

Of course, all Marketing methods should be underpinned by a wider Marketing Strategy that is aligned with the overall business plan and vision.

You can read more on the Services section of my website about each of these categories, and the activities that I believe sit within each as sub-categories.

The above shows that Marketing classification is very subjective and where one might group topics together and then use sub-categories, others, such as Marketing Profs, don’t sub-categorise and therefore end up with a much larger list.  No approach is right or wrong, it’s just a personal preference and there are common themes.

Marketing for Different Audiences

One final thing to consider is that Marketing means different things in different industries, depending on a number of variables.

  • Is it business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C)?
  • Is it retail, a service business, a non-profit organisation, e-commerce, etc?
  • What are the demographics of the target audience?
  • Has the industry adopted technology or is it more traditional in nature?

All of these questions, and more, will dictate how the Company is marketed and what methods are used to reach the audience.

Similarly, Marketing is not always about customers, it could also be relating to staff, potential employees, a Corporate board, Financial backers, or other stakeholders.

My Conversational One-Liner

So, how do I summarise all of the above to create a conversational response when asked what I do, that anyone unfamiliar with Marketing can understand?

The elements that I feel are most important, for my purposes at least, are as follows:

  • Inclusion of what Marketing is, why we do it AND how we do it
  • Short and down-to-earth rather than long and corporate or academic
  • Marketing defined as a process rather than just actions or activities – from identification to retention
  • Inclusion of science and art (or data and creativity)
  • Inclusion of some sort of examples of what a day-to-day as a Marketing professional might involve
  • An acknowledgement that target audiences are all different and therefore require individual methods and approaches
  • An acknowledgement that there are a number of audiences, not just customers.

Having taken all of this into consideration here’s what I’ve come up with:

“Marketing is the entire process of finding and capturing the attention of an audience to ultimately persuade them to take an action; usually to buy something. Day-to-day activities vary depending on the characteristics of the business, industry sector and audience, but it requires a mixture of analysing data and being creative.”

The What: the entire process of finding and capturing the attention of an audience

The Why: to ultimately persuade them to take an action; usually to buy something

The How: a mixture of analysing data and being creative.

What do you think of my definition?  How would you define Marketing?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

Image credit: Giphy