Dictionary.com defines marketing as, "the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising."
If you work in a marketing role like I do, it's probably difficult for you to define marketing even though you see and use it every day -- the term marketing is a bit all-encompassing and variable for a straightforward definition.
This definition feels unhelpful.
The selling part, for instance, overlaps a little too snuggly with a "what is sales" definition, and the word advertising makes me think of Mad Men brainstorming sessions.
But upon digging deeper, I began seeing that actually, marketing does overlap heavily with advertising and sales. Marketing is present in all stages of the business, beginning to end.
What is marketing?
Marketing refers to any actions a company takes to attract an audience to the company's product or services through high-quality messaging. Marketing aims to deliver standalone value for prospects and consumers through content, with the long-term goal of demonstrating product value, strengthening brand loyalty, and ultimately increasing sales.
At first, I wondered why marketing was a necessary component during product development, or a sales pitch, or retail distribution. But it makes sense when you think about it -- marketers have the firmest finger on the pulse of your consumer persona.
The purpose of marketing is to research and analyze your consumers all the time, conduct focus groups, send out surveys, study online shopping habits, and ask one underlying question: "Where, when, and how does our consumer want to communicate with our business?"
Here, let's explore the purposes of marketing, along with types of marketing, the 4 P's of marketing, and the difference between marketing and advertising.
Whether you're a seasoned marketer looking to refresh your definitions, or a beginner looking to understand what marketing is in the first place, we've got you covered. Let's dive in.
Purpose of Marketing
Marketing is the process of getting people interested in your company's product or service. This happens through market research, analysis, and understanding your ideal customer's interests. Marketing pertains to all aspects of a business, including product development, distribution methods, sales, and advertising.
Modern marketing began in the 1950s when people started to use more than just print media to endorse a product. As TV -- and soon, the internet -- entered households, marketers could conduct entire campaigns across multiple platforms. And as you might expect, over the last 70 years, marketers have become increasingly important to fine-tuning how a business sells a product to consumers to optimize success.
In fact, the fundamental purpose of marketing is to attract consumers to your brand through messaging. Ideally, that messaging will helpful and educational to your target audience so you can convert consumers into leads.
Today, there are literally dozens of places one can carry out a marketing campaign -- where does one do it in the 21st century?
Types of Marketing
Where your marketing campaigns live depends entirely on where your customers spend their time. It's up to you to conduct market research that determines which types of marketing -- and which mix of tools within each type -- is best for building your brand. Here are several types of marketing that are relevant today, some of which have stood the test of time:
- Internet marketing: Inspired by an Excedrin product campaign that took place online, the very idea of having a presence on the internet for business reasons is a type of marketing in and of itself.
- Search engine optimization: Abbreviated "SEO," this is the process of optimizing content on a website so that it appears in search engine results. It's used by marketers to attract people who perform searches that imply they're interested in learning about a particular industry.
- Blog marketing: Blogs are no longer exclusive to the individual writer. Brands now publish blogs to write about their industry and nurture the interest of potential customers who browse the internet for information.
- Social media marketing: Businesses can use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and similar social networks to create impressions on their audience over time.
- Print marketing: As newspapers and magazines get better at understanding who subscribes to their print material, businesses continue to sponsor articles, photography, and similar content in the publications their customers are reading.
- Search engine marketing: This type of marketing is a bit different than SEO, which is described above. Businesses can now pay a search engine to place links on pages of its index that get high exposure to their audience. (It's a concept called "pay-per-click" -- I'll show you an example of this in the next section).
- Video marketing: While there were once just commercials, marketers now put money into creating and publishing all kinds of videos that entertain and educate their core customers.
Marketing and Advertising
If marketing is a wheel, advertising is one spoke of that wheel.
Marketing entails product development, market research, product distribution, sales strategy, public relations, and customer support. Marketing is necessary in all stages of a business's selling journey, and it can use numerous platforms, social media channels, and teams within their organization to identify their audience, communicate to it, amplify its voice, and build brand loyalty over time.
On the other hand, advertising is just one component of marketing. It's a strategic effort, usually paid for, to spread awareness of a product or service as a part of the more holistic goals outlined above. Put simply, it's not the only method used by marketers to sell a product.
Here's an example (keep reading, there's a quiz at the end of it):
Let's say a business is rolling out a brand new product and wants to create a campaign promoting that product to its customer base. This company's channels of choice are Facebook, Instagram, Google, and its company website. It uses all of these spaces to support its various campaigns every quarter and generate leads through those campaigns.
To broadcast its new product launch, it publishes a downloadable product guide to its website, posts a video to Instagram demonstrating its new product, and invests in a series of sponsored search results on Google directing traffic to a new product page on its website.
Now, which of the above decisions were marketing, and which were advertising?
The advertising took place on Instagram and Google. Instagram generally isn't an advertising channel, but when used for branding, you can develop a base of followers that's primed for a gentle product announcement every now and again. Google was definitely used for advertising in this example; the company paid for space on Google -- a program known as pay-per-click (PPC) -- on which to drive traffic to a specific page focused on its product. A classic online ad.
Where did the marketing take place? This was a bit of a trick question, as the marketing was the entire process. By aligning Instagram, Google, and its own website around a customer-focused initiative, the company ran a three-part marketing campaign that identified its audience, created a message for that audience, and delivered it across the industry to maximize its impact.
The 4 Ps of Marketing
In the 1960's, E Jerome McCarthy came up with the 4 Ps of marketing: product, price, place, promotion.
Essentially, these 4 Ps explain how marketing interacts with each stage of the business.
Let's say you come up with an idea for a product you want your business to sell. What's next? You probably won't be successful if you just start selling it.
Instead, you need your marketing team to do market research and answer some critical questions: Who's your target audience? Is there market fit for this product? What messaging will increase product sales, and on which platforms? How should your product developers modify the product to increase likelihood of success? What do focus groups think of the product, and what questions or hesitations do they have?
Marketers use the answers to these questions to help businesses understand the demand for the product and increase product quality by mentioning concerns stemming from focus group or survey participants.
Your marketing team will check out competitors' product prices, or use focus groups and surveys, to estimate how much your ideal customer is willing to pay. Price it too high, and you'll lose out on a solid customer base. Price it too low, and you might lose more money than you gain. Fortunately, marketers can use industry research and consumer analysis to gauge a good price range.
It's critical that your marketing department uses their understanding and analysis of your business's consumers to offer suggestions for how and where to sell your product. Perhaps they believe an ecommerce site works better than a retail location, or vice versa. Or, maybe they can offer insights into which locations would be most viable to sell your product, either nationally and internationally.
This P is likely the one you expected from the get-go: promotion entails any online or print advertisement, event, or discount your marketing team creates to increase awareness and interest in your product, and, ultimately, lead to more sales. During this stage, you'll likely see methods like public relations campaigns, advertisements, or social media promotions.
Hopefully, our definition and the four Ps help you understand marketing's purpose and how to define it. Marketing intersects with all areas of a business, so it's important you understand how to use marketing to increase your business's efficiency and success.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Feb 25, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated January 24 2022