What is marketing?

A pretty common question you get asked when you tell people you work in marketing is “so…you’re in advertising?” I usually preface this conversation by adding “I’m more on the planning side of things.” But even that explanation falls short of what marketing is. So let me try and sum marketing up with some marketing terms and ideas you might be familiar with.

If you had a car wash and you make a banner for the front of your business that says “Saturday, we will be washing cars at 50% off and you get a free hot dog”, well, then you are advertising your business.

If you have a flyer drawn up, and mailed to every resident within 5 miles of your business, now you’re promoting your business.

You have models in bikini’s handing out hot dogs and hand washing cars on the Saturday 50% sale and people post about it on social media, well you have gained publicity.

If you donate all of your business’s earnings that day to a charity for women’s issues in response to the bad publicity you might get for such a blatantly sexist public spectacle…well, now you’re working public relations.

All of the money that you brought in on that Saturday is sales. And every step you took to earn those sales is a tactic that fits into a strategy. If you put all of this together, what you end up with is marketing.

Everything you do to attract and keep customers is marketing. The challenge with marketing is figuring out what strategies will work, and the art of marketing is adjusting to whatever a tactic teaches you about your market industry.

The challenge of marketing is learning who your customer base is and how to communicate with them

On the surface of things, marketing seems pretty simple. The fact is that you’ve been marketed to every day of your life. When you were a kid, Kellogg’s used a cartoon tiger and the promise of a toy in every box to pull your attention to Frosted Flakes and General Mills would use a leprechaun and freeze-dried marshmallows. A simple trip to the cereal aisle became an all-out war; with the hold, the companies had you and your mom’s wishes that you choose something more sensible for breakfast.

You have been educated on how marketing works because you’ve always been a member of a demographic. You’ve always been a target audience. But you knew that already…right?

But what you probably haven’t given much thought too is how nuanced marketing is based on the industry your business serves, the size of your company, the cost of your product, how long your business has been around, and an almost unlimited number of other factors. All of these factors change the way you communicate with your customers.

This is an image of a keyword research results, showing the use of keywords at Nike's website

As an example, look at the shoe company, Nike. If you run a keyword analysis, their heaviest targeted keyword is their brand name. On closer inspection, of the 5,456 targeted keywords, only 13% of their strategy involves the word shoes. On the other hand, 74% of their keyword strategy is their brand name, and the rest of their target words, involve sales words like “promo” and “discount code”.

It would be pretty difficult for a small-to-mid-sized company to manage any website traffic with a keyword strategy built so heavily on their own brand name. The reason is because Nike pumped millions of advertising dollars into making their brand name synonymous with sports shoes. Nike has evolved its shoe company into what is commonly referred to as a lifestyle brand, which is a brand that looks to inspire, guide and motivate consumers into incorporating their brand into the consumer’s way of life.

If you have a marketing budget of millions, then lifestyle marketing might be a worthwhile gamble, but for most of us, we have to build our brands around our product and business practices. The important thing to take away from this is that when your marketing budget is limited, then you have to be more focused on your product and the results you want. In other words, you need a marketing plan that builds a strategy with a specific, and measurable, end result.

The art of marketing, is knowing how to develop a tactical marketing strategy and when to react to changes

The art of marketing is when you take everything you know about your product, your potential customers, or prospects, and the various marketing channels available to you and you build a long term plan for turning prospects into clients. The key to making your marking strategy more tactical is to:

  • Engage in marketing research to refine your product into a collection of needs that your target audience needs met
  • Refine your business message into a collection of unique selling points, or USP
  • Figure out how your prospective clients are engaging with media, and make yourself available

There are thousands of marketing strategies available, the art is taking all of your marketing research and your tactical considerations and executing it into a marketing plan. As you begin working your plan, you monitor the results and then make adjustments where things aren’t working and you double down on the things that do! A marketing strategy that doesn’t react and adjust to failure is not a good strategy and continuing without course correction is just was a waste of money.

Successful marketing is an art because it’s kind of like jujitsu, it’s a collection of moves and countermoves that are brought together to achieve victory. Marketing requires you to make educated guesses about where to put your effort and then react to how the market responds. The rules of marketing are written pretty well, the base instincts of the marketer are where the secret sauce of success is really made. Knowing when to react and how to react is the key to building a winning strategy.

In other words, marketing is a collection of information and how to use it

Marketing is everything from the way we collect information, how we interpret that information, and how we choose to act on that information about our industry. In its simplest form, it is executed through a collection of advertisements, promotions, publicity, and public relations that we use to move our prospective clients on a journey towards becoming a client. It’s a strategy for obtaining leads, nurturing relationships, and retaining loyal customers who see our products as a solution in their daily lives. It is everything that we need to do in order to grow our business towards profit and sustainability.

Jason Usher

Jason has been studying design and web programming for over 10 years. He's a big fan of brand-oriented design with an emphasis on value for value growth. When he is not neck-deep in market research, he enjoys photography, time with his wife and kids, and a good movie.

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