what is marketing

What is marketing? Chances are, if you live in the real world, you have an opinion about what marketing is. You may even have an opinion about marketers. Seth Godin write a book called “All Marketers are Liars” in 2005, so he could emphasise the importance of telling the truth in a low trust world. Indeed, 17 years later, trust has eroded further.

Social media is popular, among other reasons, because customers get to see who is behind the business. But when you ask what is marketing, the answer should not start and end with social media.

Why should Startups care?

Some digital marketing experts suggest each of us are exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. So, it’s easy to assume we see the whole picture. But marketing is not advertising. And as a marketer, I am not reposnible for every ad that interupts your day, despite what my wife might tell you. Every time an ad comes on TV, she gives me a glaring look and says, “bloody marketers”.

As a Startup you need to sit up and pay attention. Marketing is essential. Marketing can make or break your venture because it literally starts before you decide what business you should be in. Marketing can literally rip you… anyway, I think I’ve made my point. It’s not a grizzly bear but if you ignore it, it will mess you up. Well, at least your business.

CB Insights conducted a post mortum survey of 111 businesses that failed. From the 12 top reasons they gave for failure, 6 of them were marketing problems. Half.

Marketing is not advertising

What breaks my heart is when I hear people say, “marketing is advertising”. Okay, it’s not wrong, however, it’s only a part truth. That’s like saying “marketing is personal selling”, “marketing is sponsorships”, “marketing is public relations” or 1 of 100 other things.

If you ask a so called expert, “what is marketing?” And they define marketing in one of these extremely narrow ways, run. Chances are they’re trying to sell you whatever they’re telling you marketing is. Which means a) they have no idea or b) they are lying. Either way, run.

So, what is marketing, if not advertising?

I promised myself I wouldn’t swear while writing this article but FFS, even Oxford’s definition got it wrong (acronyms don’t count as swearing do they?).

The American Marketing Association defines marketing this way: “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. (Approved 2017).”

I love that broad definition because it does not discount the word marketing or smear a profession I have spent years studying. Marketing is complex, strategic, and if you start with a narrow definition you have already lost.

What is marketing strategy?

Previously I wrote an article to help readers understand the different levels of goal setting, being strategic, tactical and operation. At the risk of over simplifying, strategy is long term and you set these goals over years. Tactical plans are usually carried out months at a time and operational plans are executed in days or weeks.

When people talk about social media strategy it makes no sense. Jumping to a single medium makes no sense in a strategic plan. Social media is a tactic at best. If you think strategically, you wouldn’t build a house on sand without more solid foundations to hold it it. So, why would you build your business on someone else’s crowded platform, where the algorithms can change at any moment?

Despite our constant obsession with data, people exist in the real world too. You can reach them online and offline. You can reach them across platforms and channels. Reach them at work, in the playground, the car, at home, while jogging or at the gym. Even in the supermarket where (depending on your product) they might be very close to purchase.

What is marketing mix?

Maybe by now you get the idea that marketing includes so much more than advertising, sales, or social media as stand alone solutions. The 4 P’s of marketing was a concept created by Jerome McCarthy in the 1970’s. Product, price, promotion and place are part of the mix. Booms and Bitner (1982) extended the marketing mix a few years later to include 3 additional P’s.

While there are a few variations of an extended marketing mix, I believe this one makes the most sense. The additional 3 P’s are people, processes and physical evidence.


Product decisions, including design and packaging, are key considerations in marketing. Often marketing involves initial research or customer feedback, which all help design a product that meets their needs. In fact, even early concept and idea testing is a significant part of the marketing process.


Price may seem like a simple decision, however, there are pricing models and strategies worth thinking about. Will you sell once or on subscription? Will you price at the high end to show luxury (and never discount) or at the low end to demsntrate value for money? Pricing decisions are more complex than working out your cost and adding a margin.


What aspects form your promotional mix (not to be confused with the “marketing mix” above)? Here you need to decide who your target market is, what message you want to advertise and where you can reach your audience. Advertising is part of this promotional mix, as is personal selling.


Perhaps your business has a physical location, however, when we talk about place in marketing it is more than that. You need to consider the entire manufacturing and supply chain, right down to the customer’s experience when they complete their purchase and take ownership of the product.


Who are the people representing your business? How are they trained? Customer service is something many modern businesses lack and it is still such a powerful way to differentiate your business from the rest of the pack.



What is the process your business goes through to make the product or deliver your service? People like to see the process and be sure your process is consistent with your brand values. McDonald’s is a great example for process because quality (one of their core values) is something they keep consisent through checklists and procedures. They demonstrate cleanliness (another core value) because customers can see straight into the kitchen, where the food is being prepared.

Physical evidence

What physical evidence is there that you are who you say you are? People need to trust your business before they work with you, so how can you build that trust quickly. Imagine walking onto a service station and paying the first person you noticed. No uniform, no counter, no name badge. How can you trust that your money is safe with that person? Unless you have more information, you can’t. What physical evidence can you offer customers that they should do business with you?

Still think you don’t need marketing

Rubbish. I’ve heard small business owners say this before, so we’re going to dive a little deeper into why marketing is essential for any business. But take a quick look at the post below about the decisions that go into buying your morning coffee. More than a few of the businesses I have spoken to who have concluded their business is so good, they don’t need marketing, are gone 6 months later.

What is marketing
Post I created to explain what marketing is

Why your business needs marketing

  1. Marketing strategy can make or break a business
  2. Everything involves marketing
  3. Every business has a honeymoon period
  4. Word of mouth is never enough
  5. Every business has customer churn
  6. Your business has competitors
  7. The world is a noisy place

1. Marketing strategy can make or break a business

Think of marketing strategy as steering the whole ship that is your business. Choosing a product or service that shows your strengths, so you can dominate your industry, is a smart choice. Even if you believe your business does not need advertising, marketing strategy is essential.

2. Everything involves marketing

A shop owner washes and brushes her hair, while putting on her uniform in the morning. When she arrives at her shop, she greets the customers at the front of the store with a smile. She opens the store and immediately turns on the air conditioner and flicks on the lights in the window display.

Everything, from the shop owners presentation and choice to wear a uniform right through to sales and customer support of the product, is marketing.

3. Every business has a honeymoon period

Every business has a honeymoon period. When you first open the doors to your business, it’s likely friends and family members will visit to see what it’s all about and maybe even buy from you. Locals will hear the buzz about the new business and you may even have a line at the door. I have seen this probably 100 times and every time, the business owner tells me it’s because they’re the best at what they do and word has spread.

Then, the honeymoon is over. In a matter of months or sometimes weeks, all goes quiet. No lines. No one begging to buy from you. If this happens, there may be nothing wrong with you or your business. People need reminding that you’re there. Give them a reason to return and see you, whether that’s through loyalty programs, special offers or just a nudge to remind them how they felt when they did business with you. Start planning this and putting it in play before the honeymoon ends.

4. Word of mouth is never enough

According to Deloitte, customers are likely to tell up to 9 people about a positive experience with your business. If they have a negative experience, they are likely to tell 16.

Still, new business owners often tell me that word about their business spreads like wildfire. You see, their business is the exception to the rule because everyone os talking about it. Why do they feel that way? Social media is an echo chamber, so your world shrinks to the size of your family and friends who are probably chuffed that you’re starting a business. But you may need more than family and friends to keep your business running.

5. Every business has customer churn

Even if a customer has positive experiences with your business, every business faces something called churn. Customers might leave your business because they are leaving town, their living circumstances change, income changes, work hours are adjusted or any other reason.

What will you do to replace these customers or clients? Occasional, small spending clients might be easy to replace but what if you lose your best customer or client? Marketing involves attracting new customers or clients to your business.

6. Your business has competitors

Like it or not, your competitiors may be doing some marketing and stealing some of your customers away. This is especially true if you’re in a high growth industry. Too often it is easy to confuse business growth with industry growth. When an industry grows fast, it is easy for a founder to believe it’s their own business skill that’s made that happen, so they don’t notice when competitors are getting market share from them.

In my previous roles selling TV and radio advertising, most businesses would freeze their advertising if they heard the slightest whisper about tough economic conditions ahead. My most successful advertisers spent the same amount of money consistently, month after month. As a result, they positioned their brands as top of mind for their product or service. Let’s be real. Businesses need to sell what they’ve got in a recession too.

7. The world is a noisy place

Our world is a noisy place. Above I shared some figures with you about the number of ads we are likely to see every day. Of the 10,000 ads or brand exposures someone sees in a single day, the 70,000 they see in a week and the 280,000 they see in a month, what makes you think they will remember yours?

You need to have a powerful marketing strategy that helps you cut through essentially what is marketing clutter.

Steve Jobs on marketing in a noisy world

What is marketing, if not essential?

Steve Jobs said it best. “This is a very complicated world. It’s a very noisy world. And we’re not gonna get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”

Make no mistake. Every business needs marketing. Create a strategic marketing plan, so you can be clear in your communication. Every touch point with your brand needs to communicate a consistent image and set of values.


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