What is marketing? It’s a question I often get. Everyone knows what Finance, or HR, or Sales, or Operations, or Logistics is. But what is Marketing?

Of course, like with anything, there is a formal definition that you need to read three times to understand. The American Marketing Association definition is as “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.”

So what does this definition actually mean? Here’s my explanation: Marketing is every activity your business takes to fill that gaping space between you and your customer. Simple as that. It is the bridge that connects your business with customers, or prospective customers.Everything you do to bring your business closer to customers, understand and serve them better,  is marketing.

But what does this practically mean? What activities are included, and what are excluded? In my view it depends on whether you take a narrow or broad view. If you take a narrow view, then marketing is likely only the advertising part. But here’s the thing: doing only advertising will never result in a proper bridge between you and the customer. It is a tightrope, at best. Rather, what you need to do is build a highway bridge.Three or 4 lanes running each way! To do this, you need to add body to your marketing definition. You can’t simply say it is equal to advertising.

The broader, classical view of marketing, as defined by the AMA, and taught at universities all over the world concerns a subject over 100 years old and involves much more than just advertising. The process of building a highway bridge between you and your customer starts with doing market research, a cornerstone of marketing, which then delivers data (yes cold hard numbers – nothing fluffy about this), which you should analyse to form your choice of marketing tools.

Sourcing customer data through research is part of the marketing strategy phase in which you determine where to target your marketing and how to position yourself to stand out from competitors. This typically involves defining a brand position, i.e. what sets you apart, together with developing a clear marketing message and setting goals to measure marketing effectiveness.

Once the marketing strategy is in place, you need to execute it and this is where the real juicy stuff comes in, which again involves much more than advertising. Marketing activities have been grouped in four broad groups- the 4Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. It is the last “P”- promotion (read advertising) – that has taken the spotlight to the detriment of the other 3 Ps due to money hungry advertising agencies and clients looking for a quick wins. But any marketing drive should include a thorough review of the product; whether it meets customer expectations, and the price, to see if it measures up to the value you deliver and finally where your offering is distributed (the “place” p).

But if Marketing is about building a highway to the customer, where does “Sales” fit in? It is the very last little bit of the bridge, where you and your prospect have direct, one on one contact to agree the terms of a deal. It is however linked to the marketing bridge – a proper part of it. Sales does not happen independently from marketing, but forms part of an entire process to bring your business closer to your customer.

You’ve guessed it – I take a broad view of marketing and for me marketing is much more than advertising. Marketing involves every part of your business that touches the customer, including your product, your pricing,your distribution channels, your sales team and, yes, your advertising.

The best thing you can do for your business after you have incorporated the easy functions of Finance, Logistics, HR and Ops, is to add the enigma called Marketing.