Shocking: Marketing Has Many Meanings
A funny thing happened this weekend. I was accepting a connection invite on LinkedIn and I stumbled upon a post from the CMO Network. The question asked was, “What does marketing mean to you in one or two words?” Well, I couldn’t resist—it was like a giant magnet pulling me in. Imagine my surprise when I saw more than 1,300 replies. Let’s be honest, my weekend was not so boring that I read all 1,300, but I read a bunch (that’s a technical term). Actually, I read enough to realize that there are a lot of different thoughts on what marketing means.
Of course, I couldn’t really leave it at that. I actually extracted all of these one- and two-word answers from the post and started slicing and dicing them. Why? I was curious if there were trends across all of these people on this topic.
After weeding out the silly/crazy answers that always find their way into these types of open-question posts, there were some clear trends in thinking:
1. There was a pretty equal balance between the use of words like “profit," "revenue" and "sales” with the use of “customer" and "consumer” in the replies. I think this is a great sign because, as we all know, whether you are a nonprofit organization or a commercial company the revenue and profit only comes from building the right relationships with the marketplace.
2. I’m betting that several years ago if this same question was asked, there would not be many answers that included words like “engagement,” “connection” and “experience,” but in today’s marketing environment these words were present across many of the answers. This too is a great sign that the old marketing formulas of “direct to consumer” have been greatly adjusted by the power of social media, peer networking, etc.
3. As always, there were many references to “brand” when people explained what marketing meant to them: brand advocacy, brand appropriate, brand awareness, brand communication, brand connectivity, brand equity, brand establishing, brand love, brand profit, and the list goes on and on. I’ll probably get myself in trouble with some branding folks, but when you ask a question about a word that has many different definitions across the various industries and you answer using another word that has so many different interpretations (brand), this just creates more confusion. I’m not saying that marketing is not connected to branding, but I am saying we need to be more specific. If someone posted, “What does brand mean to you,” I would expect the same kind of replies with many different answers. In other words, using one to help define the other just seems to create more confusion.
4. Finally, there were many answers that seemed to be versions of “creating demand." Of course, this definitely resonates with a very large piece of the marketing puzzle, but not the full puzzle.
Perhaps the large number of component-based views of marketing, versus holistic or global views of marketing, was what I found most interesting in reading the responses. Now, if I had wanted to conduct additional “non-scientific” analysis, I would have compared positions to answers, but that was just too much work for a Sunday afternoon curiosity. But, what is obvious is that what job you have impacts what marketing means to you.
With that said, I think the general sentiment from hundreds and hundreds of people in the CMO Network is absolutely on point. Yes, there were outliers. There were answers that seemed to be very high-level concepts, others that represented laser-focused components of marketing, and everything in between. However, it was obvious that the evolution of marketing and what it means to a brand is occurring.
But, before we close out this weekend curiosity project, I want to share some of the more "official" marketing definitions from across industries:
- The American Marketing Association says that 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.
- Merriam-Webster defines marketing as the activities that are involved in making people aware of a company's products, making sure that the products are available to be bought, etc. It is the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market and the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.
- McKinsey & Company speaks to the goal of marketing being to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions.
- ReturnPath believes that marketing, when done well, is the strategy of the business—its value proposition, go-to-market strategy, and brand positioning and image to the world. Marketing, when not done well, is an endless checklist of advertising and promotional to-dos that can never be completed. Marketing in the 21st century must be largely, but not entirely, measurable and accountable around driving business goals.
- Professor Philip Kotler defines marketing as “the science and art of exploring, creating and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit. Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires. It defines, measures and quantifies the size of the identified market and the profit potential. It pinpoints which segments the company is capable of serving best, and it designs and promotes the appropriate products and services.”
Overall, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that marketing must be rooted in what the company or organization needs to be successful. Additionally, the value of its role in driving customer relationships, revenue/profit is something that must be understood. Why? Some marketing experts will say that every staff member in a company is responsible for marketing. Obviously, there is a difference between responsibility and accountability in this perspective—but even when thinking about the two-word descriptions mentioned above, building brand connections, securing relationships, being a part of keeping a company profitable and valuable seems to be more of a company-wide focus than just a department.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.