Marketing Has No Definition and No Rules?

the 4 p's of marketing
marketing has no rules
Image courtesy of B2C

Really?  Marketing has no rules and no definition. That’s from a post I recently read on AdAge — I’m not providing a link because it would embarrass both the author and AdAge because the statement was so ignorant. And, the post was written by someone who should have known better — someone from

I mean, just look at the graphic above. Marketing, obviously, is a process with rules governing that process, as we’ll discuss later.

Of course, totally misunderstanding marketing is the problem when firms hire folks who don’t have a marketing background. These folks, often journalists or technical folks, struggle to rediscover the marketing principles known to folks with a marketing background, which costs their employers money on wasted marketing tactics and opportunity costs from missed tactics.

Marketing definition

Over the years, the AMA (American Marketing Association) struggled to keep the definition of marketing current in a world where marketing evolved rapidly. The current AMA definition of marketing is:

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
(Approved July 2013)

In addition, the AMA maintains an open-source repository for marketing terminology, metrics, and systems– the marketing rules of the game.

Unfortunately, the post author wasted years coming up with his own defining principles of marketing that weren’t even as comprehensive and actionable as the AMA definition he denied existed. His assumption that marketing has no rules is based more on his ignorance than the actual lack of rules that direct marketing actions.

This definition clearly positions marketing as much more than simply advertising and sales, which novices and outsiders think comprise marketing. If you want to learn more about how the definition of marketing impacts marketing practice, take a look at my post on the topic or my Slideshare.

Marketing has no rules

OK, so maybe we call them marketing principles, rather than rules, but they provide effective guidance to marketers wishing to implement successful marketing campaigns. There are too many marketing principles to address here, but I’ve included some of the most important. I’ll construct future posts with additional marketing principles.

The 4 P’s

the 4 p's of marketing
Image courtesy of Business2Community

Of course, the hallmark of marketing is the 4 P’s — pictured above. In the digital age, we talk about alternatives to the 4 P’s, but every incarnation includes at least these 4 elements of successful marketing.

A recent incarnation of the 4 P’s is the 7 P’s, which includes the original 4 plus:

  • people
  • positioning
  • packaging

The customer journey

Although the term “customer journey” is a product of the digital age, marketers always knew consumers went through a series of steps before buying and that marketing needed to match the needs of consumers at various stages in the buying process.

dysfunctional customer journey

The customer journey might reflect goal-directed behavior ending in a purchase or look more circuitous like the image above. Marketers must manage the customer journey to make it as smooth as possible to optimize revenue.


Segmentation, target marketing, and positioning are related marketing activities that have a significant impact on the success of your marketing campaigns. Successful marketers understand that not everyone is a likely prospect for their products or services — some have different needs, financial resources, etc. Proctor and Gamble make use of this by creating different products for different target markets using positioning to align certain products with certain target markets.

For instance, Tide is designed for families with young children whose clothes get very dirty and stained. Their slogans, which change slightly over the years, all emphasize Tide as a tough stain remover for clothes. Meanwhile, Cheer targets career families without small children with its emphasis on protecting your clothes and their bright colors. Other detergents target other segments of detergent consumers. P&G successfully maintains different products for different segments across several product categories, including diapers.

Understanding the market, segments within a market, and developing a deep understanding of those segments you choose (your target market(s)) requires extensive market research. We often refer to target markets as Personas and we build out stereotypical individuals representing our target market that includes both demographics and psychographics (and maybe even geographic). For an example, check out this graphic.

market persona
Image courtesy of Dribble

The concept of branding is intimately tied to positioning and requires a significant marketing effort that goes well beyond the simple logo and packaging design.

Reach and frequency

Commonly in the digital age, we refer to frequency as “touches” and reflect how many times a target consumers. Reach refers to how much of our target market gets our message. The notion is you need to reach 100% of your target market between 5-7 times for your message to be effective.

In the days of traditional media, that meant paid advertising, but in the digital age, a company needs to focus on earned media and owned media in addition to paid media.

Marketing management

Once you really get into the principles of marketing management, you find similarities with management principles. This is especially true for service marketing, where the intimate relationship between the service provider and customer (client) requires effective management of the service providers — in marketing, we call them internal customers to reflect their importance on our market performance.

In addition, marketing management includes these activities:

  • analyzing market opportunities,
  • selecting target markets,
  • designing marketing strategies,
  • planning marketing programs,
  • organizing, implementing, and controlling the marketing effort.

Retail and e-commerce

Retailing and e-commerce have their own vocabulary and set of guiding principles. In retailing, we talk about atmospherics such as lighting, crowding of people and products, music, and other factors that make shopping enjoyable or unenjoyable. Online, we often refer to these principles as User Experience.

A good user experience means navigation through the e-commerce site is intuitive, easy, and requires little effort. A good example of how important user experience is for e-commerce success, Amazon increased sales dramatically when they implemented their 1-click buying. Each click removed from the buying process significantly impacts profitability.

Good user experiences also feature pleasing visual elements, lots of white space, and easily accessible content.

Product life cycle

The product life cycle reflects changes as a product ages — from the introduction of the new product through decline and ultimate death of the product when a firm discontinues it due to poor market performance.

Different marketing strategies are necessary at each stage in the product life cycle. For instance, in the introductory stage, marketers focus on educating potential buyers about the product, while in the maturity stage, marketing efforts shift to reminding existing customers to repurchase the brand.

profits over the lifecycle
Image courtesy of Comindwork

In the decline stage, marketers may extend the product’s life cycle by improving on the existing product or finding new uses (or users) for the product.

New product development, adoption, and diffusion

New product development ensures the continued survival of a company and firms unwilling to engage in the creative destruction required to bring their product mix into the future are doomed to decay and eventual death.

A good example of creative destruction is the smartphone which is effectively destroying the market for original cell phones. Blackberry’s lag in developing an effective smartphone puts the firm in serious jeopardy.

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