The Purpose of Marketing

Stephen DeAngelis

April 19, 2019

What’s the purpose of marketing? You might think that question has an easy answer. It doesn’t. What started me thinking about this subject was an article by Tim Burke (@t1mburke), CEO of Affinio, in which he asked, “At the end of the day, what does any advertiser want out of a campaign?” His answer, “It’s simple: to change consumer behavior.”[1] That’s probably not how I would have answered the question; so I started looking at what others have written about the purpose of marketing. Following are some of the answers I found.


Changing consumer behavior. Since Burke started me on this journey, let’s begin with his thoughts. He writes, “Whether that behavior is to try a whole new product category, switch brands, or recommend a product to a friend or family member, all advertisers hope the end result of their media investments lead to long-term shifts in consumer behavior.” Reading his article led me to a different conclusion. His focus is on using data and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and leverage (rather than change) consumer behavior to make sales. He concludes, “AI is widely available and can be deployed to detect, cluster, and surface statistically relevant behavioral data. It sheds light on the consumer’s intent by understanding, to a rich degree, the behaviors that indicate attitude and values, which in turn leads to intent, followed by consumer behavior. Marketers can track, measure and iterate based on nuanced behaviors instead of broad-based demographic similarities.”


Attracting attention. Will Cannon, Founder of UpLead, writes, “Marketing is the action of promoting and selling your products or services. In essence, shouldn’t the ultimate purpose of marketing be making sales? Probably, but with the constant bombardment of information and pitches today, approaching people with the inner desire to sell may not work anymore. Hence, for me, the main purpose of marketing is split into: Attracting your target market’s attention; [and] making them realize that they will become better when they buy your product or avail your service.”[2]


Differentiating your business from competitors. Kimberlee Leonard writes, “Marketing helps to show consumers what makes your products worth the price. Consumers often conclude that any company in the same industry does exactly what every other company in that industry does. This isn’t always the case, and developing the marketing plan to highlight a niche helps drive the right type of traffic to the site and helps get better-qualified leads for sales.”[3]


Solving problems. Business consultant Debra Ellis (@DebraWEllis) writes, “The most common answer is ‘to generate sales.’ If that was your answer, congratulations! You agree with the majority of people. Unfortunately, they are wrong. The purpose of marketing is to help people solve their problems.”[4] That sounds a lot like the advice given by the late Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt who was famous for saying, “Sell the hole, not the drill.” He would add, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.” He wasn’t suggesting consumers don’t care about product specifications; he was saying marketers need to understand consumers’ problems and then convince consumers their clients have the best solutions for those problems.


Demonstrating consumer value. Solving consumers’ problems certainly provides value; but, there are other ways to provide value as well. Andrew Stephen (@AndrewTStephen) L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, writes, “The fundamental purpose of marketing revolves around creating value for people, which typically means customers (but should not be limited to customers and should include, for example, employees and business partners up and down the value chain). … Instead of talking the talk about being customer centric, marketers should think more specifically about how their actions — and all actions throughout their businesses — help to create real value for customers. Value can come in many forms, and need not always be measured in purely economic terms.”[5]


Generating profit. Answering the question about the purpose of marketing, marketing strategist Sharon Starke writes, “1 word. Profit. No one is in business to break even or spend time and energy that produces a result with no return.”[6]


Many of the experts cited above make the observation that marketing is most effective when the right consumers are targeted. “When a company understands its niche,” Leonard explains, “it can target customers better through marketing. Marketing done right generates better quality leads.” Starke adds, “Identifying people who would benefit using your product/services is just the start. Once you know the type of person/people who would benefit using your product or service you have to understand [rather than know] their WHYS (knowing and understanding [are] different). Once you understand their WHYS, you have to know who you’re competing with. Because that is another factor that comes to play. If your competitors provide the same product/services at a better price, why would people choose to buy or give you money?” Cognitive computing systems can help marketers understand both consumers and competitors. As Burke notes, “You may discover, through the application of AI, that there are millions of consumers — with diverse demographic backgrounds — who share [promising traits and values] but who don’t currently buy [your product].”


Concluding thoughts


The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) offers a more formal definition of marketing than those discussed above. It defines marketing as: “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”[7] It continues, “Sometimes people assume marketing is just about advertising or selling, but this is not the whole story. It is a key management discipline that ensures producers of goods and services can interpret consumer desires and match, or exceed them. … History reminds us that without proper marketing, you can’t get close to customers and satisfy their needs — and if you can’t, a competitor surely will.” What I like about the CIM approach is that it broadens marketing’s purpose beyond solving problems to satisfying desires. Not everything consumers want to buy solve a problem. Comedian Steve Martin once stated, “I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too.” Sometimes consumers want to buy dumb stuff. Marketing can help consumers find what they need as well as what they desire. And it can sometimes convince consumers they want something they had no idea they desired.


[1] Tim Burke, “Advertising is About Changing Behaviors…Why Don’t We Segment, Target and Measure On It?MarTech Advisor, 5 March 2019.
[2] Will Cannon, “What is the main purpose of marketing?Quora, 15 February 2019.
[3] Kimberlee Leonard, “What Is the Purpose of Marketing & Sales?Chron, 28 January 2019.
[4] Debra Ellis, “What’s the Purpose of Marketing?Multichannel Magic, 2019.
[5] Andrew Stephen, “Don’t Forget The Fundamental Purpose Of Marketing Revolves Around Creating Value For Customers,” Forbes, 29 November 2017.
[6] Sharon Starke, “What is the main purpose of marketing?Quora, 15 February 2019.
[7] Staff, “Marketing and the 7Ps: A brief summary of marketing and how it works,” The Chartered Institute of Marketing, 2015.