Essence Versus Attribute – What is Marketing?

“The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.”
Peter Drucker

Marketing. What is it? You hear the term used in a wide range of conversations: business, personal, and casual.

How do you define it? Pause and ponder a minute. Write the definition in your brain. Hold that thought and read on, because how you define marketing will define your small business.
Before I define what marketing is, let’s clarify what it’s NOT.

Marketing is NOT:

• Sales
• Public Relations
• Advertising
• Branding
• Messaging
• Management
• Communicating
• Networking

These preceding bullets are aspects of marketing, but ultimately, they are only means to your marketing ends. Think essence not attribute. The essence of marketing is the active and sustained process that delivers the product or service to your customer. An attribute, such as advertising, is a means to an end, but not the end. An attribute is a piece of the puzzle, but it does not complete the puzzle.

After working in corporate, high-technology marketing for over 20 years, I discovered that companies sometimes don’t realize just how powerful marketing is as a tool to sustain revenue and grow market share. Some small businesses see marketing as an afterthought used only in good times. Furthermore, many companies don’t understand that without marketing, sales engines don’t fire on all cylinders. When times get tough and the economy goes south, marketing is often the first victim of downsizing. In reality, marketing is both your best offense and defense to sustain and grow your business during either tough or good economic times.

When times are tough, that’s the time to expand and not contract your marketing efforts and budget. When your competition decreases their marketing, you should increase. When your competition decreases advertising, you should increase. When your competition is losing mind and market share, you should be growing mind and market share. When there is less media clutter, you should make your voice heard. When your competition is hiding in a fearful economic corner, waiting for the storm to blow over, that’s when you strike-and strike with aggressive determination.

Now back to defining marketing. The word marketing is often used, but rarely understood. The following definition comes from the American Marketing Association. It’s one of the best I’ve seen. It’s not too academic and ethereal, but instead drives to the core of what marketing means:

“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.”

Marketing is thus an ongoing, dynamic course of action that delivers the products and services your customers need-products that add value and offer sustainable benefits.4 Marketing is continual and not periodic. It’s a business lifestyle and mentality. We don’t “do” marketing when we feel like it; we LIVE marketing. It’s like breathing-it becomes second nature. Marketing is the active process you do every day in your business. Consistent response rather than periodic reaction is the key. If you make marketing into a continual, habitual process, then you don’t have to play catch up. Recurrent marketing activity gives your business momentum. In the long run, it saves you time, money, and energy.

Marketing Applied

Bottom line: marketing is a verb and not a noun!

For example, every day I try to generate at least one marketing activity. Some days it may be something small such as a phone call to a potential client or a content update to my Web site. Other days may be dedicated to marketing activities such as writing a press release, article, or a post on Twitter or Facebook. The point is this: be consistent and be active. Don’t let one day go by without doing at least one marketing activity. Let marketing become a habit.

Be active. For example, tell your story consistently and map out your press releases that fit your overall messaging; send out action-oriented e-mail newsletters on a regular basis; plan a long-term advertising strategy and stick to it; consistently contact your best customers; update your Web content and keywords. Marketing is thus an active process. An activity each day, whether large or small, builds up over time and becomes a habit that you initiate without thinking.

As a way of giving back to the community and keeping my “marketing mind” sharp and active, I teach a class called Principles of Marketing at a local university. I tell the students that marketing is simply the process and activity of delivering a product or service to the end customer.

On the far left you have the product, and on the far right you have the customer. The critical link between these two is marketing. It’s the process and activity of connecting, delivering, and communicating that product to the customer. It’s ongoing and should never stop. If marketing is taken out of the linear line, then the process stops. Marketing must always balance the center. No marketing equals no process. No marketing equals no activity.

Some companies mix marketing and sales together, as in, “Director of Sales and Marketing” or “VP of Sales and Marketing.” However, “What’s wrong with that?” you ask. It’s not really a question of morality; it’s a question of category and clarity. Marketing is at home with itself rather than sharing functions with other business departments. Sales is sales, and marketing is marketing. Both small businesses and large corporations are better off separating both functions. Sure, they work together and in many respects cannot function separately. However, since marketing covers such a wide umbrella of overall strategic business functions, it’s unfair to lump marketing with the core of other business tasks. Real marketing exists to support sales and provide the necessary tools to communicate product features, functions, and benefits to customers.

The following is a partial list of marketing action items any small business should include in their marketing process regimen:

• Write a press release.
• Update your Web site keywords.
• Update your Web site HTML title pages.
• Post a Twitter update.
• Post a Facebook update.
• Plan your monthly e-mail newsletter topics.
• Call a dormant/past customer.
• Call a current customer.
• Create a list of articles you could write for your Web content.
• Write an article.
• Speak at a meeting or event.
• Post a blog entry.
• Update your business plan.

So remember: think process and activity. Think essence and not attribute. Live the marketing lifestyle, and the process becomes second nature. Now take a few minutes to cover some of the following questions and action items. I am sure there other items you will think of yourself, but the point is to get you asking and thinking about how your small business approaches marketing. Feel free to ask either yourself or your employees some of the following questions. These are perfect for group discussions, so apply them in whatever context best fits your business model.

Questions and Action Items

1. How did you define marketing before you read this chapter?
2. After reading this chapter, did your understanding of marketing change? If so, why?
3. What do you think of the other definitions of marketing by Philip Kotler in the notes section?
4. What marketing activity did you engage in today?
5. Are your current marketing activities consistent or periodic?
6. Are your current marketing activities reactive or responsive?
7. If you could pick one marketing activity to complete this week, what would it be?

Stuart Atkins
Copyright, 2010