Time for a new definition of marketing?

Time for a new definition of marketing?

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Coming up with a definition for marketing seems like a never-ending challenge with no universally accepted definition for the profession. Public relations seems to suffer with a similar inability to define itself too.

I did wonder why having a definition really matters, but in reality a clear definition of a profession is important for those who work within it and to help increase understanding of the profession from outside.

Perhaps some of the commonly held views of the two professions from outsiders come from the lack of clarity of definition (my particular favourites being marketing = sales and public relations = spin).

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has one of the most commonly cited definitions of marketing:

The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

Quite succinct, with a balance of what marketers do (“the management process”), who it’s about (“customer requirements”) and why they do it (“profitably”), although the last aspect does ignore much marketing that takes place for reasons that are not about profit, such as in the public and voluntary sectors.

But now CIM is proposing a new definition. According to the coverage I’ve seen (MyCustomer.com, BrandRepublic, themarketingblog, creative match, mad.co.uk) the revised definition is proposed in a new Shape the Agenda paper from the institute, although at the time of writing I can find no reference to it on the CIM website or the Shape the Agenda website.

So, according to the reports, CIM says marketing is now:

The strategic business function that creates value by stimulating, facilitating and fulfilling customer demand.

It does this by building brands, nurturing innovation, developing relationships, creating good customer service and communicating benefits.

By operating customer-centrically, marketing brings positive returns on investment, satisfies shareholders and stakeholders from business and the community, and contributes to positive behavioural change and a sustainable business future.

You what? Having recovered from nearly choking on my coffee let’s look at this a bit more.

As I can’t find a copy of the full white paper on the web I clearly can’t comment on the rationale, but let’s just think about the proposed definition.

The shift in balance of emphasis from management process to customer can’t be argued with. Neither can the catch-all outcome of value creation – which covers the diverse concept of value in the different sectors where marketing plays a role.

The coverage suggests CIM and the report’s author, David Thorp (CIM’s director of research and information), think that the definition will improve outsider perception of the profession. I struggle to see how this is true – I’d suggest most people outside, and a fair number within, the profession won’t have the faintest idea what the definition means.

The combination of such a broad definition that could encompass aspects of sales, public relations, customer services, human resources and organisational development, along with some buzzword bingo classics like “operating customer-centrically” and “sustainable business future”, really doesn’t hit the mark.

The reality is marketers do not operate in a sealed bubble – they have to work alongside professionals in other disciplines to deliver just about anything, but that doesn’t mean that these other disciplines and their outputs are really part of marketing.

To me this all suggests a real lack of clarity of thinking about what the profession actually is. Like PR, marketing is a composite profession, consisting of a number of loosely affiliated disciplines with similar but not identical goals.

With such a composite profession, there will always be internal tensions and debate about what’s “in” and what’s “outside” the definition of the profession. With this new definition it says to me that rather than try to isolate the core essence of marketing and the marketing approach to doing business, CIM is taking the “big tent” approach and trying to encompass every activity in the definition.

For me the only way to come up with a sustainable definition of marketing is to consider what makes marketing different from any of its allied professions – the core essence of the marketing approach that makes it distinct. Combining this with a focus on outcomes – what marketing achieves – would be a better approach to definition.

Sorry CIM, this really doesn’t do it for me.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephanedelbecque/

[tags]marketing, definitions, cim, chartered+institute of marketing, buzzword+bingo[/tags]


I work with founders and senior leaders in rapid growth businesses. My focus is building resilience, coherence and high performance in teams and organisations to enable sustainable business growth.

10 thoughts on “Time for a new definition of marketing?”

  1. Hi Simon,
    Here’s a nice concise one from Vargo and Lusch, the guys who brought us Service-Dominant logic of marketing:
    “To collaborate with customers and partners to create and sustain value.”
    It’s not a thorough definition, but one that seems to catch the zeitgeist of marketing thinking at the moment. I think?
    I’m just writing an article explaining service-dominant logic at the moment, and I can confirm boiling down is much needed. After a while it gets nearly impossible to avoid nearly-meaningless buzzwords!

  2. To be honest I think I preferred CIM’s original definition of marketing and like yourself, I’m a bit perplexed by the over wordy replacement. I doubt they’ll be getting a plain English award for that one! Actually, Simon Young’s offering seems far more succinct.
    As someone with a foot in both the CIM and CIPR camps how do you feel about the possibility of a future convergance of both roles?

  3. Thanks for that Andrew, but I can’t take credit for the succinctness – that definition was lifted from a paper by Professors Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch. But thanks anyway!
    And Simon, yes I’d be interested in your thoughts on the future convergence of PR and marketing.

  4. Thanks for the comments guys.
    The more I think about the two disciplines, especially as I study for the CIPR Diploma, I see how closely they are aligned.
    There are some many interdependencies that it is difficult to separate the two, often to the degree that I start to see them as a single profession, rather than as two discrete professions.
    I’ll probably get hung, drawn and quartered for saying that, but it does often seem that those with vested interests (eg professional associations) seek to perpetuate a distinction between the two professions, when in practice they are become closer than ever before.
    The way I see it at the simplest level is that marketing is about changing behaviour and PR is about reputation. And to change behaviour, the right reputation is crucial to being able to market with credibility.

  5. Interesting. I think it’s all part of a larger trend towards blurring professional borders. Joseph Jaffe once said on his podcast, and I thoroughly agreed, that marketers need to know how to do advertising and PR, PR communicators needed to understand advertising and marketing, and advertisers needed to understand more about PR and marketing.
    I see it reflected in the growing number of agencies trying to offer genuinely integrated solutions. If there’s pressure on agencies to be that agile and discipline-agnostic, how much more do practitioners need to be on their toes.
    Must make life hard for marketers and PR people, but it does provide a lot of business and career opportunity for people who can bridge the gap, or at least translate the different languages used to describe some of the same things.

  6. Hi Simon
    I support your proposal. Thanks for your creative & innovative ideas. Proceed on your ideas.
    S. M. Mujahidul Islam
    Lecturer, Department of Marketing
    National University, Bangladesh.

  7. i just want to ask you what is the difference between american marketing association’s marketing definition from the definition of chatered institute of marketing?.
    compare and contras for the definition of marketing?AMA and CIM.thanks!

  8. Hi
    I’m looking for previous ifficial marketing definitions over time.
    for example what is definition of marketing between 1930-1950
    if you have any informations, please mail me on :pourya62842yahoo.com

  9. Hey Simon,
    I realize I’m commenting years later but your comments are still open so here it goes:)
    To start with here is the link where you can get the PDF: tommorow’s word, re-evaluating the role of marketing.
    Regarding your post, I also thought the new CIM definition is verbose. That said, this is inevitable when trying to define the applications of marketing rather than why it exists. As such, I am with the opinion that it is beyond PR, advertising and communication altogether.
    I’m actually writing a post on that now, which will be posted as an article in our community and on our Facebook group. Might drop by with a more formulated opinion later. Thanks for the read.

  10. Hi Simon.
    Do you know when the first concept was created???
    “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”
    And do you have any information about marketing concepts before 1950’s??
    Best regards,
    John Lemon


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