What is Marketing? A significant problem marketing has always wrestled with is one of its definitions. Person A makes the product – They are in production. Employee B buys things used in production – They are in purchasing. Person C recruits and trains people that work in the business – They are in HR. All clearly defined roles with little ambiguity.

Ask thirty laymen what an operations manager does and you will receive a reasonably consistent and largely accurate answer. Try the same with marketing and you will be presented with a wide range of answers. Try typing ‘top marketing experts’ or ‘famous marketers’ into Google and scan through the results. Everyone from Plato to Michael Phelps gets a mention.

A Brief History

Let’s start at the beginning. When did marketing as a profession first emerge as a discrete discipline? Strategy is one key element of marketing with its origins in military strategy. We know the military strategy timeline goes back at least 2,500 years to the time of Sun Tzu.

Salesmanship certainly predates military strategy. Advertising can be traced back to the invention of the printing press.

Proctor and Gamble started selling Ivory Soap in 1879. Many suggest this was the first branded product, but really? Pop into Kelvingrove in Glasgow and you will find a Viking sword inscribed with the a Sword makers name. It is believed that this sword was actually made years after the Sword maker died. His name had become synonymous with quality. It was a brand.

So we reach the 1900s. I suggest marketing was defined as a discrete business discipline in the mid-1950s with the publication of the works of Wroe Alderson. Some may claim that Neil Borden (1922-1962) who coined the term marketing mix was the father of marketing. Or, it could be Igor Ansoff (1918-2002) or E.J. McCarthy (1928-2015) but we would be arguing about semantics.

The first real giants of modern marketing such as Philip Kotler started to emerge in the late 1960s. Marketing as a discipline has emerged relatively recently. It could disappear as a discrete discipline just as rapidly.

Definitions Of Marketing

There are many definitions of marketing and that’s part of the problem. Taking a sample from marketers I admire. All have been in the trenches for decades.

Philip Kotler (From Marketing Management). – ‘The art of identifying and understanding customer needs and coming up with solutions that satisfy customers and produce profit for the stakeholders’

Jagdish Seth (From The 4A’s of Marketing), – ‘The arts of understanding, informing, influencing and persuading – to align all aspects of the organisation around a set of common customer centred goals.’

Malcolm McDonald – (From Marketing Value Metrics). – ‘Marketing is a process for defining markets quantifying the needs of the customer groups (segments) within these markets; determining the value propositions to meet these needs; communicating these value propositions to all those people within the organisation responsible for delivering them and getting their buy in to their role; playing an appropriate part in delivering these value propositions to the chosen market segments and monitoring the actual value delivered.’

All focus on understanding customers and their present and future needs and finding ways to address those needs. Kotler and McDonald suggest delivering value is key. They call out the importance of delivering and measuring profit. Seth and McDonald definitions explain the importance of influencing and persuading. This applies both externally and internally to the organisation. Interestingly, none of the definitions mentions brand or lead generation.

E.J. McCarthy defined the 4P’s of marketing (Product, Price, Promotion and Place) in the early 1960s. Marketing’s task he suggested was to manage those 4P’s to maximum company benefit. Any author out to make a name for themselves has since claimed there are 5P’s then seven, then nine.

Jagish Seth suggests the marketing should control the 4A’s of Awareness, Acceptability, Affordability and Accessibility. This, in turn, is a development of the Coca Cola Company 3A’s.

How to define marketing? Well take your pick. Personally I like Malcolm McDonalds definition but those are lofty goals to live up to.

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