Noted Harvard Professor of Business, Theodore Levitt, states that the purpose of all business is to "find and keep customers". Furthermore, the only way you can achieve this objective is to create a competitive advantage. That is, you must convince buyers (potential customers) that what you have to offer them comes closest to meeting their particular need or want at that point in time. Hopefully, you will be able to provide this advantage consistently, so that eventually the customer will no longer consider other alternatives and will purchase your product out of habit. This loyal behavior is exhibited by people in the US who drive only Fords, brush their teeth only with Crest, buy only Dell computers, and have their plumbing fixed only by "Samson Plumbing—On Call 24 hours, 7 days a week". Creating this blind commitment, without consideration of alternatives, to a particular brand, store, person, or idea is the dream of all businesses. It is unlikely to occur, however, without the support of an effective marketing program. In fact, the specific role of marketing is to provide assistance in identifying, satisfying, and retaining customers.
While the general tasks of marketing are somewhat straightforward, attaching an acceptable definition to the concept has been difficult. A textbook writer once noted, "Marketing is not easy to define. No one has yet been able to formulate a clear, concise definition that finds universal acceptance". Yet a definition of some sort is necessary if we are to layout the boundaries of what is properly to be considered "marketing". How do marketing activities differ from non-marketing activities? What activities should one refer to as marketing activities? What institutions should one refer to as marketing institutions?
Marketing is advertising to advertising agencies, events to event marketers, knocking on doors to salespeople, direct mail to direct mailers. In other words, to a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In reality, marketing is a way of thinking about business, rather than a bundle of techniques. It is much more than just selling stuff and collecting money. It is the connection between people and products, customers and companies. Like organic tissue, this kind of connection or relationship is always growing or dying. It can never be in a steady state. Like tissue paper, this kind of connection is fragile. Customer relationships, even long-standing ones, are contingent on the last thing that happened.
Tracing the evolution of the various definitions of marketing proposed during the last 30 years reveals two trends: (1) expansion of the application of marketing to non-profit and non-business institutions; e.g. charities, education, or health care; and (2) expansion of the responsibilities of marketing beyond the personal survival of the individual firm, to include the betterment of society as a whole. These two factors are reflected in the official American Marketing Association definition published in 1988.
“Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception. pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual (customer) and organizational objectives.”1
While this definition can help us better comprehend the parameters of marketing, it does not provide a full picture. Definitions of marketing cannot flesh out specific transactions and other relationships among these elements. The following propositions are offered to supplement this definition and better position marketing within the firm:
The overall directive for any organization is the mission statement or some equivalent statement of organizational goals. It reflects the inherent business philosophy of the organization.
- Every organization has a set of functional areas (e.g. accounting, production, finance, data processing, marketing) in which tasks that are necessary for the success of the organization are performed. These functional areas must be managed if they are to achieve maximum performance.
- Every functional area is guided by a philosophy (derived from the mission statement or company goals) that governs its approach toward its ultimate set of tasks.
- Marketing differs from the other functional areas in that its primary concern is with exchanges that take place in markets, outside the organization (called a transaction).
- Marketing is most successful when the philosophy, tasks, and manner of implementing available technology are coordinated and complementary.
Perhaps an example will clarify these propositions: L.L. Bean is an extremely successful mail order company. The organization bases much of its success on its longstanding and straightforward mission statement: "Customer Satisfaction: An L.L. Bean Tradition" (Proposition 1). The philosophy permeates every level of the organization and is reflected in high quality products, fair pricing, convenience, a 100 per cent satisfaction policy and, above all, dedication to customer service (Proposition 2). This philosophy has necessitated a very high standard of production, efficient billing systems, extensive and responsive communication networks, computerization, innovative cost controls, and so forth. Moreover, it has meant that all of these functional areas have to be in constant communication, must be totally coordinated, and must exhibit a level of harmony and mutual respect that creates a positive environment in order to reach shared goals (Proposition 3). The L.L. Bean marketing philosophy is in close harmony with its mission statement. Everything the marketing department does must reinforce and make real the abstract concept of "consumer satisfaction" (Proposition 4). The price-product-quality relationship must be fair. The product must advertise in media that reflects this high quality. Consequently, L.L. Bean advertises through its direct-mail catalogue and through print ads in prestigious magazines (e.g. National Geographic). It also has one of the most highly regarded websites.(AD 1) Product selection and design are based upon extensive research indicating the preferences of their customers. Since product delivery and possible product return is critical, marketing must be absolutely sure that both these tasks are performed in accordance with customers' wishes (Proposition 5). While one might argue that the marketing function must be the most important function at L.L. Bean, this is not the case. L.L. Bean is just as likely to lose a customer because of incorrect billing (an accounting function) or a flawed hunting boot (a product function) as it is from a misleading ad (a marketing function).
Admittedly, marketing is often a critical part of a firm's success. Nevertheless, the importance of marketing must be kept in perspective. For many large manufacturers such as Proctor & Gamble, Microsoft, Toyota, and Sanyo, marketing represents a major expenditure, and these businesses depend on the effectiveness of their marketing effort. Conversely, for regulated industries (such as utilities, social services, or medical care or small businesses providing a one-of-a-kind product) marketing may be little more than a few informative brochures. There are literally thousands of examples of businesses—many quite small that have neither the resources nor the inclination to support an elaborate marketing organization and strategy. These businesses rely less on research than on common sense. In all these cases, the marketing program is worth the costs only if it fits the organization and facilitates its ability to reach its goals.