My Favorite Marketing Definitions

What does marketing mean to you? Here are 9 great definitions of marketing.

by Gary Slack

Almost all of us collect things—often offbeat things.

I know a man who collects Toby jugs, another who collects old-time lunch boxes and a husband-wife couple whose stately home is a museum to soaps and soap marketing over the last century.

For my part, I collect marketing definitions. Fortunately, this “hobby” does not require a basement or a room or even a drawer … just a megabyte or two on my iPad® Pro.

Here are my nine favorites of some 20 or so I’ve collected over the years.

1.) “Marketing is what you do when you can’t go see somebody.”

I always like to start with this one—the simplest and the oldest (circa the 1940s or 1950s, I believe), uttered or written by Fairfax Cone, one of the founders of Foote Cone & Belding, now FCB.

Cone was a protégé of the ad agency giant Albert Lasker, who in his early years assiduously sought a definition of advertising, ending up with “salesmanship in print.” That definition was coined before radio and TV.

Cone’s definition of marketing, tongue-in-cheek as it was, nonetheless resonates today, even in its incompleteness.

2.) “Marketing is simply figuring out what you have to do to sell your product or service for a profit.”

This definition comes from Jack Trout, the late half of the dynamic Trout-Ries duo, who in 1981 brought us Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind, still considered by many to be the best marketing book ever written.

Way ahead of its time, this definition was one of the first to give marketing a clear-cut strategic, and core financial, role in business. It must have gone over the heads of so many who, at the time and even still today, only see marketing as sales support.

3.) “Marketing is making what your customers want. Sales is getting rid of what you make.”

Not the first definition to contrast the yin-yang roles of marketing and sales, this one, from noted market research giant and Copernicus Marketing and Consulting chairman Kevin Clancy, underscores marketing’s strategic role, too.

It also brings customer wants and needs into the picture—not the first in that regard, but one of the earliest to do so. I don’t think salespeople, though, are especially fond of this one, especially those who see themselves as the meaningful voice of the customer.

4.) “Marketing’s job is not just to help sales sell more, but to make customers want to buy more.”

I love that this definition, from Tom Insprucker, CMO of Philips Lighting and a longtime senior Square D and Schneider Electric marketing exec, really threads the needle on how marketing supports sales and customer demand.

Tom’s definition adds to Clancy’s the idea that marketing’s role is not just to make and sell the right things, but to sell and help customers buy “more” of your stuff.

5.) “Marketing’s role is figuring out how to sell more stuff to more people for more money more often.”

Then there’s Sergio Zyman‘s memorable definition, which is more of a street-fighter version of Clancy’s and Insprucker’s definitions.

Zyman is the polarizing and controversial but brilliant marketer behind Diet CokeTM (but also New CokeTM) and the author of two of the best books on marketing and advertising. His definition is known to especially resonate with boards and CEOs—and with Wall Street.

6.) “Marketing is all the exhilarating big things you do and all the troublesome little things that must be done in every nook and cranny of the organization in order to attract and hold a customer.”

This wonderful definition from the great Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School professor and venerated editor of the Harvard Business Review, is decidedly less technical and formal than others but maybe best describes the day-to-day reality of the life of most marketers.

7.) “Marketing is the set of activities that act to maximize the value of the firm’s assets by connecting them to the exact right demand.”

This one from Ralph Oliva, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets and professor of marketing at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, is not too different from Ted Levitt’s but emphasizes, importantly, the alignment of investment to actual demand.

8.) “You get paid for creating a customer, which is marketing. And you get paid for creating a new dimension of performance, which is innovation.”

Who else could this definition be from other than management consultant guru and titan Peter Drucker, often called the “grandfather of modern marketing”? Here, he contrasts the marketing and innovation functions, which he viewed as the main tasks of a business.

Over the years, I have been highly influenced by his definition of business purpose—to create and retain profitable customers. How simple is that?

9.) “Marketing’s purpose is to create, communicate and deliver value to a target market at a profit.”

I’ll end with what I think is the best overall definition—from Philip Kotler, the renowned Kellogg School professor of marketing. Often called the “father of modern marketing,” he’s the author of more than 60 books on the topic.

Phil’s definition covers so much ground in just a few spare words—marketing’s customer-focused role in deciding what to make and its role in communicating, selling and creating demand.

Gary is the Chief Experience Officer, Slack and Company. Opinions are his own. He can be reached at

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