We've noticed that on a well known marketing web site (actually, it's on the ClickZ.com web site), there is an article with a similar title - just what is marketing? This is a very good question and the answer typically ends up (as it is in the aforementioned article) being a lot of tactics, like advertising, brand management, sales, service, pricing, email marketing, etc. That's a good start, but far from complete.
And that's one of the problems with the web. There are lots of web sites out there with people claiming to be knowledgeable about marketing. In fact, if you go to search engines like Google and type in marketing, you'll come up with over 16,000,000 web pages! By the time you've got that many people claiming to be experts in marketing, it's difficult to even know what marketing means.
MARKETING IS NOT TACTICS
When most people think of marketing, they think of marketing tactics. People associate marketing with tactics, partly because they're fun. Advertising is fun, promotions are fun, and so is sending out email campaigns and every other similar tactic. But tactics, while the most salient aspects of marketing, are similar to the tactics of sport. They're very important, but useless without having a sound basis of knowledge.
And so it is with marketing. Marketing is far more than tactics. Marketing is analysis, and a sound marketing strategy is based on this analysis.
OBVIOUSLY, MARKETING IS ABOUT CUSTOMERS
What type of analysis are we talking about? Well, analysis about customers, for example. Having a solid understanding of customers means having a solid understanding about how customers behave, their motivations, their perceptions and preferences. It means segmenting the market correctly and not in the way that most companies think about segmentation (if they ever do).
It means having a profound understanding of their attitudes, their knowledge and their emotions. Without having this knowledge, the tactics of marketing are just blowing in the wind. You'll hope that the tactics work, but be blissfully unaware about whether anyone would want to pay attention or listen.
WHAT ABOUT COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS?
Rarely do we see marketing sites deal with competitive analysis (we do!). Marketing is also about understanding competition. But not just listing off who the competitors are. It means thinking about their competitive reactions, their objectives and capabilities. It means understanding competitive forces in an industry as well.
Too often I see firms acting as though they were monopolists, as though their competitors were unlikely to react or had little interest in capturing a market. The Internet is a good example of this. How many Internet companies really seriously thought about the potential competitive reactions of the entrenched players? Did any of them consider long term competitive reactions? What about putting together plans that were robust to future competitive reactions?
No, marketing is also about competitive analysis, not just the "interesting and fun" tactics that permeate the web.
WHAT ABOUT COMPANY CAPABILITIES?
Once again, to think about marketing you need to also think about a company's abilities to actually survive in the market. I'm not talking about financial abilities, although that is part of the story. What about a culture, the salesforce compensation, the relationships with distributors, suppliers, etc?
Some companies focus squarely on customers and even think about competitors. But these same companies often forget about their ability to provide what customers need, or the incentives in their distribution system to actually get the job done.
No, marketing is not just about tactics, it's also about understanding your own company and it's abilities and weaknesses.
SO, WHAT IS MARKETING?
Marketing is, in fact, the analysis of customers, competitors, and a company, combining this understanding into an overall understanding of what segments exist, deciding on targeting the most profitable segments, positioning your products, and then doing what's necessary to deliver on that positioning.
How to do deliver on a positioning? Well, this is where the tactics come in. By branding correctly, by advertising correctly, by communicating via email, letters, or whatever, but all done in a way that is consistent with the analysis that marketing is really responsible for.
If you want to get involved in tactics, that's fine. But just think about artists, sports figures, doctors and scientists, and ask yourself whether in these other areas (which all, by the way, are as creative as marketing), it is just necessary to understand tactics. I think what you'll find is that tactics alone won't get you very far, but tactics along with a strategy based on great analysis will get you exactly where you want to go.
So before you go hiring consultants and network with other marketers (as suggested in this "other article"), make sure you understand what is marketing so you don't just become a tactical pawn, but someone who can ultimately direct the entire marketing campaign.
NOTE: You can read tutorials on all analytical aspects of marketing (customers, competitors) right here.