What is marketing? A jargon-free explanation

There are all sorts of definitions for marketing. But they’re mostly abstract, full of industry-speak or so obscure and opaque they’re bugger-all use to novices.  

Some marketers call it the creative application of logic. Neat. But what does it actually mean in practical terms? Try to decode it and it’s spectacularly unhelpful, like trying to grab fog.

Other definitions include this, from Wikipedia:

Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service. From a societal point of view, marketing is the link between a society’s material requirements and its economic patterns of response. Marketing satisfies these needs and wants through exchange processes and building long term relationships. Marketing can be looked at as an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, delivering and communicating value to customers, and managing customer relationships in ways that also benefit the organization and its shareholders. Marketing is the science of choosing target markets through market analysis and market segmentation, as well as understanding consumer buying behaviour and providing superior customer value.


And here’s another, this time from the Chartered Institute of Marketing:

“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

As the getin2marketing website says, “This means the ideas, the brand, how you communicate, the design, print process, measuring effectiveness, market research and the psychology of consumer behaviour all count as part of the bigger picture of marketing.” Fair enough. But it’s still pretty abstract.
I thought it’d be useful to shun the emperor’s new clothes approach and talk about the real meaning of marketing, in emotional terms everyone can understand, from the bottom up, with no jargon or industry-speak, no abstractions and no bullshit.

What is marketing?

Here’s my three step guide to the bare bones behind marketing.

  1. You decide on your values and ethical standards so you can reflect them back at people in everything you do.
  2. You treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself, which in marketing terms means doing your best to find out what they’re interested in, then giving them something truly relevant that’s actually worth having.
  3. You spread the good word as widely as you can, in all the places where the people who like or need your products and services hang out.

The practicalities and fine detail behind marketing flow from here. It’s your job to learn how to actually do all this good stuff. You can use the above as a checklist every time you get down and dirty with marketing, to stop you drifting into sub-standard territory.

5 useful plain language marketing generalisations

  1. Quantity plus quality – The more often you do marketing, and the more you do, the better. The whole tends to deliver more than the sum of the parts, especially when you reflect your values and ethical standards in the same way across all your activities. Marketers call it integration.
  2. Finding out the best approach – You can test different ways of doing things head-to-head and find out what works best. Marketers call it testing and segmentation.
  3. Respecting individuals – It’s good to treat people as individuals because the more you know about them, the better you can meet their needs and the more of them will reward you by buying something. Marketers call it targeting.
  4. Speaking plainly – it doesn’t matter who you sell your stuff to. Even if it’s royalty or extra-clever eggheads like Nobel Prize winners, it’s always easier to sell when you use plain, clear language. No excuses, no exceptions.
  5. Being honest – The more you bullshit and try to be something you aren’t, the fewer people will respect and trust your business and the less successful your efforts will be. I’d never recommend pretending you’re a big company if you’re actually a small business, for instance. Or vice versa. People will rumble you, then you’ll look silly if not downright dodgy.

The most important question every marketer should ask?

Whether you’ve been marketing for decades or wouldn’t recognise a campaign if one bit you, this is the most important and useful question to ask yourself at every stage:
“Would I like being treated like this?”
If the answer is ‘no’, don’t do it.

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