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There are lots of well-crafted, wide-ranging, all-inclusive marketing definitions.

A sampling:

  • American Marketing Association (AMA): "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 and organizational goals."

  • World Marketing Association (WMA): “Marketing is the core business philosophy which directs the processes of identifying and fulfilling the needs of individuals and organizations through exchanges which create superior value for all parties.”

  • Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIMU) [United Kingdom]: “Marketing is the management process for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

A critic might note the wordiness of these definitions and, perhaps, also their apparent political correctness in attempting to cover so much ground. The sparseness of references to profitability is especially noteworthy. (A cynical critic might also suspect that these are classic committee-created definitions, meant to satisfy a wide range of constituencies and viewpoints!)

Perhaps these definitions are so complex because they try to simultaneously define marketing as well as identify how marketing is executed.

Can the essence of marketing be captured in only a few well-chosen words? My personal favorite marketing definition is this:

Marketing means solving customers' problems profitably.

The virtues of this six-word marketing definition include the following:

  • Conciseness: It's only six words. Well, it's four words of content after the obligatory “marketing means” preface to ensure that this definition is a technically complete sentence. (Feel free to substitute “marketing is” for “marketing means,” if you prefer.)

  • Clarity: Everyone can understand this definition, not just marketers.

  • Inclusivity: It works for large or small business-to-business, service, and consumer companies worldwide. For non-profits, “profitability” might need to be replaced by “efficiently and effectively” or “purposively” to indicate the goal-seeking nature of marketing.

  • Memorability: These six words are memorable. The AMA, WMA, and CIM definitions tax anyone not possessing a photographic memory.

There are powerful implicits in this six-word marketing definition.

First, customer selection is central to this definition, but not mentioned or emphasized in the AMA, WMA, and CIM definitions. If customers aren't profitable to serve, then they aren't or shouldn't be our “customers.”

Organizations must choose their customers carefully, and this definition makes that charge crystal clear. With this six-word marketing definition, more attention may be devoted to customer/market selection and customer/market segmentation, perhaps putting it on par with differential/competitive advantage in commonplace marketing and business strategy discussions.

Second, “solving” is a powerful term, implying a turnkey solution and not just a “device” or a quick-fix.

Third, “customers' problems” is externally oriented, challenging the organization to work backward from customers' problems toward the organization in all of its dealings rather than working forward from the organization's capabilities (core competencies) toward customers. Thus, customer-orientation is central to this six-word marketing definition.

Does this six-word marketing definition speak to the question of what makes a customer-driven organization? Absolutely. Customer-driven doesn't mean unprofitable. And, surely, customer-driven means solving customers' problems.

“Solving customers' problems profitably” is not a unique definition of marketing. These four words are widely used in business and marketing. For example, a Google search for these four words found no hits on the complete phrase,. But a search for hits with these four words (not necessarily in this order) yielded 4,660 hits. These words may be widely used, but this particular ordering and emphasis is uncommon.

There are lots of marketing (questionnable?) “truisms” that seem answerable with this six-word marketing definition. For example, these:

  • “The customer is always right.” (Or, “the customer is king/queen/supreme” or “the customer knows best.”) Well, it is their money, so the customer is certainly always right in that sense. But, does “right” mean that customers can berate service personnel? Does “right” mean that we must, should or would sell at unprofitable prices just to prove that the customer's right? Hardly.

  • “Marketing research is too expensive.” How are customers' problems to be identified and solved without the right (presumably detailed) marketing intelligence?

  • “Marketing is what you say to your customers.” (Or, “marketing is advertising and sales.”) This is, of course, the oldest and poorest definition of marketing, denying the salience of product/service design, pricing, distribution and service support in the success of marketing products and services.

With this definition of marketing, we finally have an unambiguous answer to the universal benchmarking question: “How large should the marketing department be?” And the answer is, “Everyone in the organization is the marketing department, since everyone should and must be concerned with solving customers' problems profitably.”

Indeed, anyone in the organization with no role to play in “solving customers' problems profitably” is staff or overhead or, in the harsh critic's eyes, “organizational roadkill.”

Sometimes, a few words are superior to many. “Solving customers' problems profitably” goes a long way to demystifying the essence of marketing.

Go ahead and take this test: ask your business colleagues at your next meeting whether they agree or disagree with “marketing means solving customers' problems profitably” as being the essence of marketing. But then go on from there to raise these questions to begin to address the “how to do it” of “solving customers' problems profitably”:

  • What are our customers' problems (known, articulated, met, unknown and unmet)? How do we know this? How sure are we that these are really our customers' most important problems?

  • What information do we have and need on occasional and continuing bases to make significant progress toward fully understanding and then solving our customers' problems now and in the future?

  • Which customers are our profitable ones? What can be done to turn less-profitable customers into more-profitable customers? Under what circumstances will we need to “fire” some of our customers because we can't profitably serve them?

  • What is every part of our organization contributing to the organization's efforts to solve customer problems profitably?

A final practical take-away: “Marketing means solving customers' problems profitably” provides a viable, straightforward, non-apologetic answer to that show-stopping 10-second sound-bite query posed by relatives and non-marketers alike: “So what is marketing anyway?”

Please do road-test this six-word marketing definition; it travels well.

Continue reading "A Marketing Definition in Six Words" ... Read the full article

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Randall G. Chapman, PhD is a consultant, educator, and author who assists clients with marketing strategy, marketing and business planning, marketing analysis and research, and supply chain management. He can be reached at