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What Is Marketing? How 10 Experts Define It


In 2010 at the now defunct TS2 Show, I taught a class about lessons learned as a trade show marketer.  After all the other students had left, a young exhibit manager approached me and asked, “Everybody in my company thinks of me as the trade show guy.  How do I make them think of me as the marketing guy?”

He’s certainly not alone in his quest to grow more into a marketing role.  To get into marketing, it helps to understand what exactly marketing is.  So here are 10 experts’ definitions of marketing, plus for good measure my reactions to the strengths and weaknesses of their definitions.

“Marketing is the process by which companies create customer interest in products or services. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business development.  It is an integrated process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves.” — Wikipedia

I like how this is so focused on both the strategic and functional aspects of marketing, but especially that it’s so customer-focused – the word customer is in it three times, more than any other word!

“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.”  — American Marketing Association

This definition took the AMA years of debate to create.  It is a very comprehensive, yet concise definition, encompassing the product development, marketing communications, pricing, and strategic aspects of marketing.

“Marketing is everything.” — Regis McKenna

Regis McKenna’s bold statement exemplifies the school of thought that everything you do – not just your products, pricing, promotion, and distribution, but even your billing, how you answer the phone, your speed of handling problems –it all affects how your customer perceives your company, so everything is marketing.

“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 the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view.  Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.” — Peter Drucker

Management guru Drucker also advocates that marketing is everything, plus he provides reasons to back it up.

“Marketing is the social process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others.” — Philip Kotler

This is more of an old-school, college-professor definition, which while accurate, is fairly cold.  I think the “social process” part diverts attention from the business side, and “individuals” sounds more clinical than “customers” which is the gold standard in many of these definitions.

“Marketing is the process whereby society, to supply its consumption needs, evolves distributive systems composed of participants, who, interacting under constraints – technical (economic) and ethical (social) – create the transactions or flows which resolve market separations and result in exchange and consumption.” – Bartles

This is even more a college-professor definition.  The idea of society evolving distributive systems seems to take the shine off of the inventiveness and initiative of individual marketers.

“Marketing is any contact that your business has with anyone who isn’t a part of your business. Marketing is also the truth made fascinating. Marketing is the art of getting people to change their minds.  Marketing is an opportunity for you to earn profits with your business, a chance to cooperate with other businesses in your community or your industry and a process of building lasting relationships.” — Jay Conrad Levinson

This is just part of a passionate rant by Jay Conrad Levinson of Guerilla Marketing fame, which highlights the role of persuasion in marketing.

“Marketing is getting someone who has a need to know, like and trust you.” — Jon Jantsch (of Duct Tape Marketing fame)

Jantsch’s definition also picks up on Levinson’s theme of persuasion, at an even more personal level than Levinson.

Marketing is “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” — The Chartered Institute of Marketing

I like how the CIM’s definition is so concise and yet so all-encompassing, and how marketing’s job is to take care of the customer, while making a buck, too.

“Marketing is the process of anticipating, managing, and satisfying the demand for products, services, and ideas.” — Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

This too-concise definition is nearly identical to the CIM definition right before it, without the management, the profitability, and especially the customer.  So I like the CIM definition better.

The underlying thread in many of these definitions that resonates most with me is that marketing’s job is to understand what the customer needs and then to provide it – and that the job of marketing goes beyond the marketing department.

So if you want to have a greater role in marketing, then focus on how the entire experience your customers have in your trade show exhibits and displays creates more impetus for them to buy from you, rather than just the logistics of shipping your exhibit properties.  At that point you’ve shifted your mindset into the realm of marketing.

Does that help?  Whose definition do you like best?  Let us know in the comments box below, or share a better definition of marketing that you prefer.

Learn more! Check out these related topics:

Does Email Marketing Still Work?

Building Your Trade Show Resume

3 Key Reasons Why You Can’t Afford to Skip on Effective Branding

Trade Show Basics


About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

66 responses to “What Is Marketing? How 10 Experts Define It

  1. This is a very interesting list. It is very important to have an effective marketing team and making sure that they are informed about past, current, and future marketing trends.

      1. As an event specialist, I want to give my customer more than they expect so my events are not easily forgotten. I feel that customer service is not first anymore, it is mostly about sales and some quality.

  2. Mike, many months ago I bookmarked 8 Steps to Writing a Social Media Strategy. Last night there I was lying in bed looking for a great bedtime Blackberry read and I chose your 8 Steps post. I don’t know if it just came natural to you or if it required polishing, but the smoothness with which you arrive at making your points is remarkably painless. Thank you for another great post. I am enjoying your thinking immensely. Marketing I’m learning (I’m a newb) is ubiquitous. It really is making the truth riveting. Just my two cents but marketing seems to be extremely similar to studying the human condition, because I find that buyer habits, patterns and assumptions seem to be borrowed from the underlying social constructs that govern our day-to-day interactions with other people in normal social situations. I find that when I get excited about something and share it with someone else, they tend to get excited to and often seem unaware that it happened and even how it did. Now that’s marketing aye? Make someone excited about something you’re excited about without them ever noticing such a progression is underway! Wow! I’m getting excited right now. Can you feel it? Yeah Mike! Love your voice. Kudos!

      1. I just ran across this article, ” How 10 professionals define marketing”, and decided to read the replies because the article was really good and then I get the ultimate blessing of seeing that you wrote about writing Social Media Plans. I am designing a Social Media Plan as an Intern right now. Thanks for being an excellent resource.

  3. Thank you for this interesting post! I like especially the definition of Jay Conrad Levinson. In my opinion, marketing has much to do with pychology. You’ve got to understand how your customers think and what they desire. If you can satisfy their needs, you will be successful.

  4. Whoa…creepy…I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too! But then great minds…

    Marketers not only need to put the customers’ needs first in everything they do…but they also need to be the customers’ champion. If your student wants to be perceived as something more than just “the trade show guy” he needs to facilitate the discussion between the customer and all departments in the company.

    The trade show booth is the perfect place to start your company down the road to integrated marketing communications.

    1. Creepy about knowing what you were thinking about? Didn’t I tell you about the Traci-cam I had installed?

      There is no greater compliment for marketing than to be called the voice of the customer.

      And talk about great minds…when he asked me how to be seen more as the marketing guy, I told him, like you said, that trade shows are a great place to learn about direct mail, advertising, telemarketing, email marketing, and social media, as all are used to drive traffic to the booth.

  5. Mike, I just came across this post via Twitter.

    To be honest, I think it’s done a better job highlighting why marketing has become an overly-complex and ill-understood practice than it’s done in defining what marketing is. If we, as marketers, can’t come to a consensus about what our business is, how can we possibly expect those who don’t practice marketing to understand it?

    In my opinion, Seth Godin says it best:
    Marketing is the art of telling a story to a consumer that they want to hear that lets them persuade themselves that they want to buy something.
    – Marketing is about selling something. Any definitions that skirt around that are missing the mark.
    – Marketing is not about tools. Any definitions that lack an essence of strategy are incomplete.
    – Marketing is about communicating value. The only way someone buys is if they feel there is an exchange of value for money spent. Many marketers miss this fundamental point.
    – Marketing is persuasive. Let’s be honest, our job is to influence our customers.

    Thank you for creating this post and for your thoughts. It’s sparked me to write a post about this very topic :)

    1. Lara,

      Thank you for adding your favorite definition of marketing. Godin’s definition is very similar to Jay Conrad Levinson’s and to Jon Jantsch’s definitions. My marketing career has primarily been centered on that major facet of marketing, so I am proud that all three of them emphasize that marketing role in their definitions.

      However, I think that those definitions miss the huge role marketing must play in not just persuading customers to buy, but in also determining what products, and what product innovation to pursue before the persuasion even starts.

      Glad this post sparked you to write your own post! I look forward to reading it. And it was great to finally meet you face-to-face last week at Event Camp Twin Cities. I hope to make it to your ISES talk this week.

  6. Mike – you are speaking my language! Thanks for the comprehensive list, I like it so much I plan on sharing it with the TSNN Expo Files newsletter subscribers – I believe we are all marketers at heart.
    Arlene Shows, Marketing Manager, TSNN

  7. Mike, it was awesome meeting you at #ectc10! And I hope we have the opportunity to see each other again at the ISES event.

    I couldn’t agree more that we need to understand our customers – that’s where VALUE comes in. It’s one thing to understand the needs of your customers, but you have to connect how your products or services solve a problem. I also think Seth touched on this when he says: “telling a story to a consumer that they WANT to hear”.

    On the contrary, I don’t think Jantsch has come up with a definition for marketing. I’d love to see someone in marketing say to a CEO that I just met someone who wants to know, like and trust me. Now, give me a raise.

    Thanks again for a great discussion. We need to have more of these in marketing :)

  8. The right product, in the right place, at the right time and at the right price is ‘Marketing’.

  9. I have got a lot of information of Marketing but it have a different meaning so I difficult to choose it but I will try to catch the meaning. I am student year 4 so I would like say thank to this lesson.

  10. Mike, sorry you missed my presentation “Marketing to Win or Go Home” to a standing room only group of entrepreneurs at Morehouse School of Medicine, sponsored by the Overground Rail Road Friday, March 1st. I will send out advance notification for the next series of Marketing presentations titled “A Perfect Marriage, Art & Science.”

    I perused your page and gleaned some thoughts that I sprinkled into the presentation.

  11. Hey Mike,

    1. Hello Aziz,

      While your definition does include how a product is promoted, it doesn’t include a lot of other work, like choosing which products to market, and which market segments to market to. Marketing is more than promotion — that’s just the most visible part of marketing.

      Thanks for your question!


  12. It’s truly amazing such an important aspect of a business function, practice, profitability and sustainability does not have “a consensus of its interpretation”. Academic entrepreneurs MUST stop the differentiating of the WHOLE (email marketing, online marketing, mobile marketing, nuisance marketing etc.) for ulterior motives and focus on the fusion and integration of the “ONE”. This implies a definition embedded in a philosophical core of embracing resources to guide and manage inputs into optimum policies and processes so as to generate value added outputs/experiences for market space and spaces which constitute the root for conceptualizing, executing and controlling of “THE SYSTEM”.

    1. Oh, I love that term of yours, “Academic entrepreneurs.” However, we are a country of entrepreneurs, so it’s pretty much impossible to stop the people who proclaim their own definitions because they can then build a livelihood around training people on it.

  13. I like CIM’s too but my own definition is: Marketing is a management mechanism of identifying customers needs and meeting those needs and more at a profit.
    By “more”,I mean that sometimes customers derive other benefits from a product other than which it is originally produced for.Marketers tends to listen to such comments from customers and include such in their marketing communications.Example is that housewives have discovered that baking soda eliminates odour from the fridge and that stout increases sexual power in men.

  14. Thanks for this article! I am a marketing student in my last year of school. This past summer I worked at Chrysler in the marketing department, and currently work as an event marketing representative for a window company. I can definitely relate to the person wanting to not look like the trade show guy anymore.I go to trade shows with the window company I work at, and want to work towards being the marketing person instead.

    I know many fellow students, who don’t truly understand the difference between marketing and digital marketing and are confused at which program they should pursue. Do you have any expert definitions of digital marketing you would recommend? I am putting a blog together to help everyone understand better.


  15. Thanks Mike for giving these definitions and information.. I need it for my exam preparation.. From my point of view definition of Philip kotler and cim is best… Because the things elaborate very clearly.. I m not so good in English.. That’s why these definitions seems better for me.. And again thanks a lot

  16. Marketing is a never -ending process of identifying the demand of customers, producing products or service , delivering to customers through different distribution channels at a margin and also collect the customers feedback to make the customers satisfied – Munsur Ahmed .

    1. Hi Wajahat Ali Shah,
      A great resource for you would be the book “Marketing Management” (14th Edition) by Philip T. Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.
      You can find this book on

  17. I am a 1st year student studying marketing. Our lecturer asked us to google and try to understand what marketing really is all about. She indicated that it’s not only about promotion and that marketing is very broad. Reading This shows me she is right. THANK YOU

  18. I love this more, it inspired me a lot when I heard and read the reasoning of communications and understanding.

  19. Mike, your post helped a lot. I would like to ask just one question.
    what is the role that advertising plays in the marketing process ?

  20. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumble upon every day.
    It’s always interesting to read articles from other authors and use something from their

  21. I loved reading the different definitions regarding marketing. To me Marketing is the sum total of getting a product or service to the customer from concept to completion. It is understanding your customer’s needs, wants and desires and then finding a way to satisfy them. It is filling some void in the market by offering a higher quality product that can save money at a lower price is one such example. Who is the audience for your product? What features and benefits can you offer the audience that are not being offered right now which will build attention, interest, desire, conviction, and want the customer to take action?

    Inventor, Sales entrepreneur, business owner 40 years sales and marketing experience

  22. This was helpful and i now know more about marketing and how to do things particularly on a simpler and easy way

  23. I like the CIM definition. Marketing is management process of identifying, anticipating and satisfying customers needs at a profit. A marketer’s role is to satisfy in order to win a long-term customer relationship, but also should make a profit for the business to grow. Thanks CIM team.

  24. Would you agree that marketing is “the process of stimulating engagement” with potential customers, clients?

    1. Hi Damon,
      I think that is one of the functions of marketing but there is more to marketing than “stimulating engagement”. Engagement is one of the objectives of marketing but additional objectives could include; education, purchase, awareness, etc.
      The Skyline Marketing team

  25. hello, my name is Sam and im in 7th semester of BBA.
    im doing my thesis research on ( using social network as a marketing tool to communicate value proposition) so if there is some topics which can help me with please send them to me.

  26. Hi! thanks for the info… I’m a second year student.
    I agree with Regis Mckenna and Peter Drucker that marketing is everything, all activities the entire business does which create the Image outsiders see. This involves researching, promoting, selling & distribution and everything beyond such as customer service and many more. Anything specific that help market the business would just be part of the broad definition of marketing.

  27. Nice and helpful tips on marketing and is a great article that I kept reading until the end.

    According to me, marketing is simply making your brands, your products & your services reach to the people for which your products and services are.

    Whether it may be a digital medium or traditional method for marketing your business, but the ultimate aim is to increase your sale and brand awareness.


  28. The various definition of marketing is so good i believe i have beee enlightend more about its various and verse definition. It will really help me in my waec exam. According to me “marketing is the process where by companies create products or service through strategic techniques by communicating, developing and exchanging products and values with customers, partners and firms or organizations”.

  29. Wow I think marketing is process of delivering or exchanges goog and services through communication.

  30. Aᴡ, this was an іncredibly good post. Finding the time and
    ɑctual effort to gеnerate a very good article… but what
    can I say… I hesіtаte a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

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