What is the essence of marketing?

There is much confusion about the meaning of marketing. If you ask a marketer to define it, they will talk about the specifics of the work they do. They won’t be able to explain the essence of their work. Even the definitions of marketing in books and Wikipedia are mumbo jumbo. This article is an attempt to explain the essence of marketing.

Marketing is a part of doing business. Business is an activity in which you create a product/service which people want and get them to pay money for it. It is, of course, not that easy. There are two major problems in business. One is making a product which people want. Another is selling it. Marketing is concerned with selling. Marketing is about finding people who need your product and convincing them to buy it. That is the essence of marketing.

The most straightforward way to do marketing is to contact many people and directly ask them if they need your product. This technique is called “selling” or “sales/business development” (e.g., cold calling). This method will work, but it is not scalable and is inefficient. It is not scalable as it requires a one-on-one conversation. You can’t call a million people. It is inefficient as it is difficult to convince people to buy your product when you are a stranger to them. People don’t buy from people whom they don’t trust. Modern marketing attempts to solve both these problems. Modern marketing is essentially scalable and efficient “selling”.

Modern marketing solves the problems of sales using an elegant solution – reputation. In modern marketing, you build a good reputation for your business using advertising and PR. When you have a good reputation among the masses, you don’t have to manually contact them for selling (they will contact you when they need your product). You also don’t have to convince people to buy your product (they will convince themselves as you have a good reputation). This technique is called “branding” in the marketing industry. The essence of modern marketing is branding. All other business school defined marketing activities like market research, positioning, and pricing can be defined as part of product development.

Reputation is a big part of running a modern business due to competition in the modern market. In the modern market, the quality of a product is secondary as companies are competing on reputation. Customers make buying decisions based on reputation and not quality. So if you don’t create an excellent reputation for your business, you won’t survive.

The best reputations are based on virtue (e.g., caring for the community, caring for the environment or caring for a marginalized group). Such reputations stay in the minds of people for a long time. A carefully crafted advertising or PR campaign can quickly achieve such a reputation, even for a new business. Examples of virtuous reputations are Patagonia (environment-friendly), Dove (women empowerment), and Nike (social justice).

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