What is Marketing in the 21st Century?

What is Marketing in the 21st Century?

If you walked into a room with 100 marketing people in it and took a poll, you’d get at least 112 definitions of what marketing really is.

A dictionary definition is: “The business activity of presenting products and services to potential customers in such a way as to make them eager to buy.”

You’d think something so straight-forward would settle the issue. Unfortunately, no. Marketing has evolved to the point that the forest is getting lost for the trees. It seems as though almost everyone has a different take.

The business school academics (in an on-going effort to turn a practical function into a “science”) build marketing models; and if reality doesn’t conform, then shame on reality. Too many consultants focus on whatever element of marketing they are trying to sell – usually elevating their aspect of the equation to “strategy.” And the on-the-ground marketers – the people in the real-world economic trenches – are focused on their day-to-day jobs while trying to keep up with the endlessly accreting elements of marketing: mobile marketing, social media, blogs, QRCs, etc.

Marketing has become a term and a profession that everyone is sure he understands (and can excel at), and that few can fully explain.

So let’s try to agree on some basics:

 In a competitive economy, customers can choose to buy or not to buy. If they choose to buy, they can buy from you or from a competitor. Indeed, if they don’t like what is being offered, they can even become a competitor by building what they think is a better mouse trap.

 In the modern economy, however, with 24/7 customer access to information and opinion, competition has morphed into something beyond what a customer chooses. In an unprecedented way, competition is now for mindshare, for how the customer chooses.

Therein lies the problem, and the blurring of the definition of marketing. Elements of marketing, each of which is essential today, are all contending to be predominant – not partners – in engaging that mindshare. If you watch the blogs, discussion groups, conferences, and newsletters, you will see more and more discrete elements of marketing talking to themselves, not each other.

Yet, for all the tools, technologies, and impassioned discussions of how to best use the new media, and the effectiveness of traditional media, one element is notable for its absence: How do we integrate all these media?

Let’s go back to the dictionary definition. Marketing is the business activity of presenting products and services to potential customers in such a way as to make them eager to buy.

Let’s agree that all the new media, technologies, approaches, and methods of engaging customers and measuring their responses are valid and important.

Then let’s take one more step. Let’s agree that these disparate elements are focused on making potential customers “eager to buy.”

And we are back to the critical element that makes marketing marketing: communicating.

Our job as marketers is to communicate an organization’s and product’s value proposition in the most compelling way. And if all the elements of marketing are not focused with a laser-like intensity on that simple objective, then marketing – as a whole and in all its parts – fails.

We need to manage the elements of marketing into one coherent whole.

Marketing in the 21st century is not merely an ever-increasing series of mechanisms and media with which to reach potential customers. Successful marketing in the 21st century gets above the noise of the marketplace by engaging those potential customers with one clear voice.

16 thoughts on “What is Marketing in the 21st Century?

  1. I don’t think the key to marketing in the 21st century is the integration of media options. Frankly, I think the explosion of options has simply clouded the fact that good marketing is the message, not the medium. In a media-frenzied environment it is certainly harder to make an honest customer connection because the consumers of media are expert at not believing everything they read or see. Nothing has changed. Here’s the recipe for success:
    1. Find a way to be credible with an audience
    2. Find a unique message
    3. Prove your message
    4. Ask for a customer relationship
    5. Measure your ability to connect with customers and find any problems

    No Business Degree is required, but don’t get fooled by people who claim to be experts in marketing technology. Find people who are experts in people!

  2. Emily,

    When I read this, especially the part where “you will see more descrete elements of marketing talking to themselves, not each other” made me think of this. I’m screaming as loud as I can, I don’t understand why you don’t hear me. It appears to me that in many instances Marketing is screaming as loud as they can, but in a foreign language that they buyer doesn’t understand or get. That, I’m afraid, is a real problem with many marketing organizations they don’t understand their buyer well enough to speak his language and their message to them is lost.

  3. I just wanted to thank you a lot more for this amazing blog you have produced here. It is full of ideas for those who are genuinely interested in this specific subject, primarily this very post.

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