There’s plenty of confusion regarding what the true nature of marketing is. At times it appears I add to it! So, let’s clear it up.
The term marketing is typically used in two contexts. In the classic sense – or, what I call Big “M” Marketing – marketing is a primary strategic function of the firm. In its more common usage – little “m” for our purpose – marketing often refers either to visible tactical activities like advertising and promotion, or to the name of the department that is responsible for them.
Let’s start by examining the more familiar usage.
Little “m” marketing
In the marketplace, consumers see marketing in the context of marketing activities they encounter daily, e.g. television advertising, 2-for-1 sales, celebrity endorsements, branding, direct mail, corporate-named sports venues, and coupons.
In the firm, marketing is seen as these activities too, and also in the names of the internal groups or organizations associated with them, e.g. corporate communications, sales enablement, sports and sponsorship marketing, product marketing, and retail marketing.
These activities are all examples of marketing – marketing tactics, specifically. Yet, thinking of marketing narrowly in terms of its tactics is to overlook its primary value to the firm as a strategic function – arguably, to writers like Peter Drucker, the strategic function of the firm.
Big “M” Marketing
The key reason firms exist is so they can create and deliver customer value in the market, and exchange this for money. When a firm does this well, it will make a profit. If a firm is particularly astute in recognizing a unique advantage it has over its competitors, and systematically protects and capitalizes on that advantage, it can sustain attractive profits over many years.
Making these determinations represent the art and science of strategic planning. Execution relies on the conscientious use of tactics that are harmonious with the strategic plan.
Marketing strategy consists of two tasks: choosing target markets to which to sell, and establishing a competitively attractive value proposition that can be sold. Marketing tactics are those activities that design in the value of the offering, communicate the value in the market, and deliver it through distribution channels.
Acknowledging this is understanding why HP founder David Packard said:
Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.
Big “M” marketing, then, is the core function that sets the strategy and tactics for the firm, while little “m” marketing is about organizing and deploying tactical activities.