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What is Marketing? Why your definition matters.

Updated: Apr 8

Have you ever really thought to yourself, "Well, what is marketing really?" Surely, I’m not the only one who obsessively overthinks terms and phrases that we use naturally every day, am I? Maybe it makes me a word nerd, but I do believe that it’s important and beneficial for your small business to think about and define what marketing means, both in the general sense and what it means for your big picture.

Before we get into why your particular definition of marketing matters, we need to review the possible definitions of marketing.




  1. the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising. "the Western arts of marketing and distribution"

Given that this a dictionary definition, it’s about as fun and inspiring as, well, a dictionary.

Let’s look at another one. This one comes from the American Marketing Association:

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 2017)

Okay, that’s a little more interesting. There are more details and a high-level view of what it is and who it’s for. Now we’re getting somewhere.

But that doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. A more creative and helpful definition of marketing that I heard recently came from Chris Mercer of In his session at the Social Media Examiner Facebook Marketing Summit in September 2020, he described it like this:

Two business men talk as they walk down a hallway

“Marketing is a conversation.”

Wow. I can tell you that when I heard that, all the lightbulbs went off in my head. He very simply and eloquently put into words how I view and practice marketing. Now I know this definition is shorter on details than even the dictionary definition, but bear with me.

Mercer went on to explain that measuring (marketing analytics) is the listening part of the conversation, while a company’s marketing efforts are the talking part.

While I completely agree with his viewpoint, I’m going to set aside the measurement part because that is another topic for another day.

Let’s stick with the talking part of the conversation, which is your marketing activities. This perspective guides us into the mindset that in all of our marketing efforts, we are communicating to an actual human being. And that is a point of the utmost importance!

How often do you write a social media post, an email, or a blog article, where you actually picture a person reading (or listening or watching) it?

Two business women talk as they walk down a sidewalk outside

You see them scrolling on Facebook or sifting through their emails, their eyes land on your message, they pause, and then it happens. They decide to enter into this conversation with you. If you can imagine this person, ask yourself what they think or feel as they engage with what you have to say.

Why does this matter?

Let’s take our original Oxford definition: “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services.”

If I write a marketing piece with only that definition to inform me, it will probably come out something like this:

At Marketing to Mission, we’ll do your marketing for you! We can create a marketing strategy, develop a social media plan, and write and schedule all your content for you. Give us a call to sign up!

However, if we shift our perspective to view marketing as a conversation, I might churn out something more like this:

As a business owner, do you find it hard to keep up with all your responsibilities? What’s one thing that keeps falling through the cracks? For many service small business owners, it’s marketing. If you’re seeing that you need to find a way to get your name out there without losing focus on your clients, let’s talk today!

Now, you tell me - which of these feels more like a person-to-person chat? Which would you rather read?

Viewing marketing as a conversation will lead you to create better messages that people actually want to receive.

Lastly, if we’re viewing marketing as a conversation, we’ll naturally start wanting to interact with and get to know the human on the other side. In order to pick the best words to say to this person that keeps them talking back to us, we have to really know what interests them.

The process of understanding your audience is the Persona Profile Development. Be sure to check out my other posts on the topic of developing your personas and why it’s important.

If you want to get started on the process of developing personas to craft the perfect conversation for your small business, download your free copy of the Persona Worksheet. Once you complete it, you can book a free 30-minute call with me!


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