The Real Purpose of Marketing

There are seemingly hundreds of interpretations of marketing. Most have appeared only within the last decade, driven by the onset of digital marketing and its ever-sprawling complexity and fragmentation.

And the one you’ll hear next depends largely on how quickly you shift your attention in search of the next micro-solution, tool or silver bullet.

With so many interpretations, it's no wonder that the budget-holders (and many marketers) are lost when it comes to understanding the actual purpose of marketing.

When marketing was simple

During the second half of the twentieth century, marketing communications was a much simpler practice.

There were so few choices (compared with today) and there was an almost inherent understanding of marketing in business. This did evolve before digital marketing existed, but slowly and with small steps.

Many brands took a highly creative approach in their communications which was key to building brands that people remembered and understood.

This made brand-building a central component of marketing and it’s the reason why some of the oldest brands and marketing messages are well-remembered decades after some of their campaigns.

But as digital marketing emerged, things started to get complicated - fast.

The impact of digital marketing

There was huge excitement all around as digital disciplines began to emerge.

This new era was enabling things like, more (and cheaper) direct marketing approaches, the ability for startups and small budget-holders to do more than stand in the street handing out leaflets, customer communications became a two-way street, etc.

Along with the excitement grew the number of digital marketing disciplines (email marketing, content marketing, Facebook advertising, Google AdWords/PPC, etc.), and a whole host of things you needed to know to perfect each one of these (conversation rate optimisation, split-testing, headlines, maximising email opens/article clicks, etc.).

In general, traditional marketers were getting left behind as they weren’t keeping up-to-date, whilst digital natives were driving this stuff forward, but without that all-important traditional grounding.

The field of marketing was becoming over-complicated and people were losing sight of the purpose of marketing.

Worst of all, these new digital disciplines were being thought of in isolation, instead of an integral part of marketing as a whole, with objectives and strategy.

The purpose of marketing depends on who you ask

The growing complexity gave rise to armies of service providers and more and more niche marketers, each with their own perspective (or pitch) about their piece of the marketing puzzle.

Each of these definitions fights for the attention of the budget-holder through the variety of descriptions, depending on who you’re speaking to in marketing.

Most agencies, freelancers and many marketers are niche specialists. They can definitely add value if you need skillsets that you don’t have in-house.

But often the services are described generically as ‘marketing’ when they don’t actually cover the spectrum. And if the budget-holders doesn’t understand that, or isn’t clear on what they need, that leads to a waste of time and money - two lethal startup-killers.

The desired outcome of marketing (keep the lights on)

I can't say I remember being taught the specific purpose of marketing at university, but in the years of my career that followed and whilst transitioning from traditional marketing to the integrating my understanding of digital marketing disciplines, everything I did led me a greater, fundamental and yet basic understanding about growth.

But it didn’t end there, because the pursuit of growth was sliced up an in a variety of ways: an increase in brand awareness and recall, wider product distribution and availability, higher net promoter score (your customers’ likelihood to recommend), an increase in market share, or any other outcome that takes the brand or business north.

Whilst working on a project some years into my career, cross-functionally and mostly away from the physical location of the marketing team and colleagues, this intrapreneurial approach caused a bigger change in my understanding of the purpose of marketing.

I was solving a multitude of problems in a long and complicated chain of events across multiple departments. No matter which of the marketing skills I was using, at the end of the day they all were being used to facilitate sales.

But nobody taught me that. And I’ve never heard anyone say it this way.

A sale is an outcome that keeps the lights on and enables everyone to come to work the following day. It’s not about likes, clicks, eyeballs, comments, views, or any of these things individually.


Marketing has changed more rapidly in the last 15 years than the 50 years before it.

These recent changes have been fuelled by the introduction and evolution of digital marketing and the opportunities it brings. This has made marketing tools much more accessible especially to smaller businesses and startups.

But this evolution has also created complexity and confusion in field of marketing, including its practitioners.

Marketing sits closely alongside sales and the more aligned your marketing strategy and tactics are with the goal of fulfilling business objectives and audience needs, the more likely it will drive a transaction.

So however you approach your marketing, the one thing its directly or indirectly intended for is to support the drive for sales.