activity: unpacking 2 definitions of marketing

Stephen Fanning

The ability to concisely define marketing is crucial – either as a student or as a marketing practitioner in the workplace.

  • As a student unpacking and understanding a marketing definition demonstrates learning and assists students to achieve higher marks.
  • In the workplace it assists marketing practitioners to develop a marketing philosophy and communicate with other marketing practitioners and demonstrate value with colleagues from other disciplines.

There are, probably, 1000’s of definitions of marketing on the internet – although there are many interesting and insightful definitions there are also many inaccurate definitions some are really definitions of marketing communication. To provide a more complete and balanced view of marketing, The Marketing Concept [e-book] provides two definitions. We begin with a ‘classic [consumer] definition’ and then move onto a ‘contemporary [organisational] definition’. 


You may ask – why two definitions?

The classic definition provides an excellent insight to consumers and how consumers live their lives through marketing [yes, that’s right consumers are involved in marketing].

The contemporary definition takes a different stance and defines marketing from an organisational and applied perspective [so this is more an operational definition] [more on that later].

Therefore: the classic definition helps us to understand consumer behaviour and the contemporary definition helps us to understand organisational behaviour.

This activity challenges students to unpack Kotler’s classic definition of marketing and reflect on their own consumption experiences.

Consider each of the following slides and the meaning that is built into the parts of the classic definition

This classic definition states that marketing, regardless of whether they are sellers or buyers are engaged in a human activity. This recognises that people naturally engage in the marketing process of exchange. Implied is that people are also different and therefore will engage in this activity to suit their own needs and wants.

This slide is employed to make a point that could be easily overlooked. That marketing is also about the service component of the product. That how we determine satisfaction is also through the interactions between the customer and the organisation. Therefore the human activity is about people coming together.

Although it is not explicitly stated – it is implied in Kotler’s definition that it is satisfaction for both the customer and the organisation. Clearly buyers and sellers go to market to satisfy their needs and often wants. As we progress we will see how an understanding of satisfaction is essential for measuring, managing, and meeting organisational objectives. 

Organisations do not create needs. Consumers enter the buyer decision process after they have recognised an unmet need that has sufficient strength to motivate them to act [approach a benefit V avoid an outcome]. Therefore, organisations should understand the consumer and ensure that they create and communicate a product offering that is best satisfying.

Maslow’s hierarchy is often cited and it is insightful. It is an excellent foundation and introduction to needs and values. This diagram shows Maslow’s extended hierarchy and if you are unfamiliar it would pay to visit the e-book.

At the heart of marketing is that it is about and exchange. Something of value for something of value. It is also important to emphasise that to be considered marketing both parties should be free to enter or exit the exchange. When we look at the evolution of marketing we will discover that the idea of a ‘fair exchange’ has historically been a part of marketing.

At the core of marketing is the word satisfaction. Central to marketing are customer and organisational expectations. Study this slide and you will notice that satisfaction is when your expectations are exceeded. And keep in mind that to be marketing it is satisfaction for the organisation and the customer.


In this activity it is suggested that you study Kotler’s classic definition of marketing and Maslow’s extended hierarchy of needs. Then browse your smartphone photos and consider your photos and the consumption patterns that are revealed within the images that you have taken and kept.

Consider the images identify needs and wants. Explore the images and try to establish the difference between needs and wants.

You may wish to chat with a fellow student[s] about your findings.

Consider the following questions in your reflections and/or discussions 

  • What patterns have you noticed in your smartphone photos?
  • What consumption activities do you use your phone for?
  • Are there any indications of the needs you are trying to satisfy?
  • Why is an understanding of wants important for marketing practitioners?
  • Have you taken any photos with the intent of purchasing a similar product in the future?


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