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What is marketing?

I felt compelled to write this article because of the litany of posts I get in my feed that compare marketing to things like branding or design. These posts inevitably show marketing as the poor cousin. I have been to events where I am told that marketing is no longer needed, only good design, but then a few minutes later I hear that, sadly, lovely designs don’t always sell like hotcakes (often from the exact same person). Really? Maybe it’s your attitude to marketing that’s your problem there, friend… These are variations on the theme of “build your house and they will come” – sorry, they won’t, they’ve got loads to think about.

So I thought I would set the record straight. I could be biased because I am a marketer, but I think that marketing has an important place in business.

Key Definitions

This may seem like a simple starting point, but I went and looked up the definitions of marketing, and the various things it is compared with, in the dictionary. I figured that these were the definitions most people agreed on. From the outset, you can see that these are different things. However, they do fit together, which is often where the confusion starts.

Marketing is the activity of presenting, advertising, and selling a company’s products in the best way possible.

Branding is the activity of giving a particular name and image to goods and services so that people will be attracted to them and want to buy them.

Designing is to decide how something will look, work, etc., by drawing plans, making computer models, etc.

Presenting is the activity of showing or offering something for other people to consider.

Advertising is the activity and industry of advertising things to people on television, in newspapers, on the internet, etc.

Selling the act of giving something to someone in exchange for money.

Understanding the difference

In essence, design is about what you create, branding is about deciding on the coherent image of that thing, and marketing is about offering it up to the market to consider buying. Design and branding are about look-and-feel as well as story and values, marketing is about attention, telling the story, and distribution.

The design and brand is WHAT is being distributed, marketing is the WHERE and HOW it is being distributed.

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Why does it get confusing?

It’s confusing because each piece has a dynamic relationship with the others.

Brand with marketing and design

The image you present to the market is the brand, so in the activity of marketing you are constantly referring back to the brand assets of the company and product. On top of this, design is used to create the brand visuals that are distributed.

Design with brand and marketing

Adverts, brochures, social media images, signage, all called “marketing collaterals” or “marketing assets” when taken together, are key items in marketing. The core brand is your starting point, but it needs to be interpreted and adjusted so it works in these different mediums and contexts. A good branding course, for example, will ask you to think about how your brand will look in these different contexts. Anything you come up with should pass “The Magazine Cover Test” – if you put them together, do they look like they’re from the same company.

A common half-way point is a “brand identity” where templates for these collaterals, such as business cards and brochures are designed for you along with the logo and other key brand assets.

Marketing with brand and design

Marketing has a two-way relationship with brand and design. Marketing is about what the people who might buy, the market, out there think about when they hear your company name or product name. If they draw a blank, then you need to work on getting their attention. If they can recall your brand but not what you do, then you have a problem with the memory structures and associations they have in their head. If they know who you are and what you make and have a relevant problem, but still don’t buy, then you may have a persuasion, physical accessibility, or quality issue. Market research will help you figure out what is going on.

Marketing builds brand using collaterals that are designed. You could have a beautifully thought out brand concept with gorgeous designs, but no one will buy if they are not aware that your company exists, that it creates the product they need, and that it is available to buy easily. Even if you have a template brochure already, you may have 5 products that each need a brochure – it is your marketing department that will create these and make them compelling (with help from design).

Conversely, people have a memory structure in their minds that they associate with your brand – this is known in the business as “brand equity” and you can buy it with money. Marketing builds that memory structure by exposing those people to your brand look and feel, the brand values, the collaterals, all in different channels and contexts. One person will see your brand in many places and in each place the presentation may be slightly different, the topic may be slightly different, the tone and content may be slightly different. But in each instance, the person should recognise that this is the same brand, add each interaction to their memory structure (often nonconsciously) and build out a picture of what your brand means to them.

What have you learnt?

Marketing is the activity of getting attention from and building memory structures of your brand in the minds of people who will buy. Your brand and products are presented to potential buyers through advertising across many different channels. It requires a clear understanding of your brand, and an array of well-designed marketing collaterals.



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Oxford Learners Dictionary. (2020). Oxford University Press.

McMurtry, J. (2017). Marketing for Dummies. (for beginners)

Chiaravalle, B. and Findlay Schenk, B. (2014). Branding for Dummies. (for beginners)

Genco, S., Pohlmann, A., and Steidl, P. (2015). Neuromarketing for Dummies (for beginners)

Sharp, B. (2015). How Brands Grow: What marketers don’t know.

Bridger, D. (2018). Neuro Design: Neuromarketing insights to boost engagement and profitability.