Five steps to create your own answer to the age-old question: What is Marketing?

We can't believe this is still up for debate, but here we are.

Five steps to create your own answer to the age-old question: What is Marketing?
Photo by Sean Kuriyan / Unsplash

We’ve seen this question posed to CMOs and CEOs in recent weeks. Seth Matlins at Forbes asked this question to CMOs – including a few of our dear friends – and a team at McKinsey asked the same thing of CEOs.

With so many different definitions out there, it’s no surprise that the debate on “what does a CMO do?” continues to rage on. 

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The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all definition of marketing, and the generic ones that are out that aren’t very helpful when you try to apply them to your business. 

Our POV? We think every organization (and marketing leader) needs their own unique answer for “What is marketing?”.

Here are a few quick steps on how to start your own Marketing definition.

Step 1: Find out where you're aligned with your CEO and, more importantly, where you're not.

We know that CEOs who position marketing at the center of their growth strategies have better results so let’s start there. 

  1. Share your definition of marketing with your CEO, and ask them for theirs. 
  2. Write down the similarities and put a pin in the obvious differences. 

This might be a bit of an awkward thing if you’ve been working together for years. You can blame it on us!

Step 2: Define what marketing means for your company

Together with your CEO – and potentially even others in the C-suite – use that starting point to co-create what marketing means for your company. Forget reporting lines, titles, and empire-building for a moment. 

You could think of this as another way to define the mission of the marketing team in your org – but it’s even more practical than that. 

A note: use real words.

  • Good = Marketing for us means outperforming our competition by increasing demand for our products, inspiring customers to buy today and in the future, and helping to inform good decisions across the company.
  • Bad = Marketing is a dynamic, multi-dimensional strategic initiative, synergizing customer-centric narratives with innovative brand positioning, catalyzing an accelerated trajectory toward sustainable growth.

Note: we still think you should create an inspirational mission, too.

Step 3: Agree on what you’ll need to bring that definition to life

With the endless things marketing needs to support, it’s important to pressure test the definition against current capabilities to find the gaps. Let’s not set ourselves up to fail. Some initial ones to think through: 

  1. What kind of budget would support that marketing definition? 
  2. What team? 
  3. What capabilities? 
  4. What title? 
  5. What agreements from your C-suite peers? 

If you run into any places where your marketing aspiration can’t be supported in the way that you need, have the conversation about what needs to change in the definition. What needs to scale back or simplify? 

Step 4: Commit to revisiting often

One of the best parts about marketing is that it is constantly changing and evolving. Many of the basics will always be there, but as technology changes, so must techniques. And the ebbs and flows of a given business will demand different emphases as the quarters tick by.

Build a repeatable rhythm to come back, evaluate, and rework your definition; stay on the same page with intention and communication. 

Step 5: Put it into practice. 

Once you have your definition (and your marketing mission!), let it guide your resource allocation, ways of working, strategy, everything. Revisit the foundation of your marketing operations and make sure it’s supporting and enabling your definition. 

We can turn the dissonance around marketing into a positive opportunity for our businesses, our teams and the work. Build your own sandbox, and use it to create the version of marketing that your customers and organizations need to lead the way into the next phase of growth.