Is Marketing “everything”? Understanding apparently inflated definitions

Everything or nothing (text)

What’s the first thing you learn when you embark upon a formal qualification in Marketing? Yes, it’s the definition of Marketing itself. According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, that would be:

… the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

Everything is Marketing

If you just read that for the first time, your reaction is possibly somewhere between incredulity and indignation. Just who do these marketers think they are? By this definition, Marketing is more than raising awareness of a product or service and making people want it. It gets right down to the root of an organisation, even dictating what it produces, and how.

This reminds me of a sketch from the nineties comedy “Goodness Gracious Me”. The proud Indian father is in a bookshop, and we see him taking all the books off the shelves and piling them under a shelf labelled “India”. In his view, India is the crucible of civilisation, so all books should be categorised accordingly.

Are marketers doing the same for Marketing? Are we taking HR, Legal, Manufacturing, Sales and everything else and recategorising them under Marketing?

Marketing is nothing

This “everything is Marketing” view receives further support, at least at first sight, in the form of a quote from management guru Peter Drucker:

Marketing is not only much broader than selling; it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.

But if Marketing is simply business done well, you could say it is superfluous. Rather than locate every department under Marketing, do away with it all together! Make everyone in the organisation live and breathe a Marketing approach and kick out the marketers.

I believe there is something to be said for this approach: ideally, any consultant, in any discipline, should aim to make themselves superfluous by the time their contract is up. Why should Marketing be any different?

In contrast with the grandad-in-a-bookshop view of Marketing, it forces us to eat humble pie, accepting that a Marketer or Marketing Consultant doesn’t have all the answers. There will be people in all departments who embody a “marketing mindset” without having heard the definitions above. This is because anyone who has a strong interest in customers and critically reflects on their organisation’s activities has this mindset.

In fact, without respecting and listening to these people, I don’t think marketers will be taken seriously, or be effective. So Marketing isn’t about recategorising everything, like in the Goodness Gracious Me sketch. It’s about understanding as much as possible so it’s easier to interface with everyone within the organisation. That’s why I’m glad the course I’m doing – the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Diploma in Professional Marketing – covers such a wide range of business-related topics well beyond the tactics of grabbing attention for existing products and services.

Conclusion: what are marketers for?

So the conclusion for me is that Marketing is both everything and nothing. Everything, in the sense that a business will be more successful if it is market-oriented – because it will have that feedback loop between what it produces and what customers want – and nothing, because doing so is just good business that shouldn’t be confined to the Marketing department.

On a more day-to-day level, the most useful way to find a meaningful conclusion is to ask: where are Marketers needed? Here’s a non-exhaustive list that shows how broad marketing activities can be:

  • Marketers are needed to champion the cause of market orientation at all levels within the organisation.
  • They need to provide tools and insights that help a business and its employees to keep their eyes on the ball so they produce goods and services that are welcomed and sought after when they hit the market. This means providing market research, promoting discussion and reflection, e.g. using workshops underpinned by up-to-date theoretical frameworks.
  • Marketers should interface with the outside world – whether this be directly through social media, personal contacts, trade fairs, PR, or commissioning advertising campaigns.
  • Depending on the state of the organisation – i.e. whether it is more product- or sales-oriented – a big role for Marketers is to be change agents, helping the organisation towards a marketing orientation. This is a huge ask, depending on the size of the organisation. I’ve seen change management in action at the UK’s largest local authority when I did a graduate management scheme early in my career. The difficulty of change shouldn’t be underestimated, and it’s a discipline that is in my opinion far too big and important for Marketing to swallow whole. An understanding of it, though, is essential.
  • In the real world, there are many day-to-day activities that a Marketing department carries out that it is simply unrealistic to expect someone like a busy engineer to do. This is akin to inflated expectations around social media. Some people expected engineers, sales staff and everybody in between to be doing the company’s communication almost as a by-product in future, bringing customers right up close to the business. Experience shows that, with lots of support, they can play a role in that process. But without a helping hand from Marketing for everything from planning to production, it rarely happens.

So there you have it: the key to understanding apparently inflated claims about the meaning of Marketing is to think about where an organisation is in need of support in becoming, and remaining, market oriented. Ideally, in your organisation Marketing will be everything and nothing because everyone in it is market-oriented and doesn’t need any support in remaining so.

More likely, you will need help moving towards that hallowed ground of a market-oriented company: so you’ll have a  balance of somewhat market-oriented staff and structures, and a need for Marketing experts to keep you on your toes through day-to-day support or change management.

Thanks for reading!


Originally from Birmingham, UK. Studied Law at Exeter and Saarbrücken from 2001 - 2005. Moved to Hamburg in 2010.