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What's Marketing? Peek Into A Marketer's Pysche

Marketing is not about lying or cheating, or tricking consumers into wanting what they think you’ve got (even if you don’t). So what is it?

I’ve briefly opened my psyche’s closet doors, shoved back the “Haven’t studied for finals” nightmare, knocked out the three-headed monster that keeps yelling “Ian, the clowns are coming” and even dodged past my daughter marrying the leader of a right-wing biker gang to bring you my definition of marketing.

the clowns... It's horrible!!!!

I use this definition to test my assumptions, and keep myself honest:

My Definition of Marketing

Giving authentic, compelling information to the right audience the way they want it, when they want it.

That’s it. I’m a simple guy. So I have a simple definition.

Let’s break it down.


AdAge or the New Your Times would use a word like ‘communicating’ or ‘delivering’ or maybe even ‘rendering’. I prefer ‘giving’.

You’re providing a consuming audience with a message. Which equals ‘giving’.

You might be doing this through the radio, in print, by word of mouth or (gasp) on the internet.

And, by doing so, you must be doing the audience a service. Repeating your company name 400 times in a shouting radio spot is not giving. It’s slapping.

buy now buy now buy now!!!!!!!!

Authentic, Compelling

A marketing message works if it’s both compelling and authentic.

Authentic means true in the eyes of both the audience and yourself. You can’t be authentic if you’re lying to yourself. Authentic also means that, even if it isn’t entirely true, everyone receiving the message will feel good, even if they know the message to be a fib. I don’t care if the manufacturing carbon footprint of my Prius is worse than your Hummer’s. I still use less gas. Nyah nyah.

A compelling piece of information makes the audience feel good about taking action and buying, voting, speaking out or otherwise doing what the marketer asks. This is an emotional component, not a factual one. I love my Macbook, not because of the UNIX-based operating system or built-in camera, but because it has an air of solidity and silicon chiq about it.

A compelling, inauthentic message is a lie. That’s not our job as marketers.

A wimpy, authentic message is a whine. You can make that your job if you want, but stay the hell away from me.


A compelling, authentic message speaks clearly and honestly. That’s our job.


If you just yell “I am so COOL” I’m not going to respond. You have to couch that authentic, compelling message in hard information.

yeah, it's me again

So, Toyota informs me about the mileage my Prius gets, but simultaneously shows me images of the cool GPS unit, stereo and other miscellaneous geekery. They deliver information as the foundation of an emotional appeal.

Great marketing informs me. It helps me make a decision about which I can feel smart (even if I’m a car moron, which I am).

The Right Audience

If I’m a hardcore Lexus fan, I’ll make a crappy potential Prius owner.

Grabbing the #1 spot for ‘Touring Sedan’ would do the Toyota Prius no good. Ranking #1 on Google for ‘hybrid car’, though, would be great (it’s #4, which ain’t bad either).

The Way They Want It, When They Want It

The TV commercial is dead. Long live the TV commercial.

Tv: "Bask in my numbing glow..."

Marketers can no longer force their audience to listen during defined time slots. Instead, we have to make sure that the marketing message is out there, floating around, ready to be snatched out of the ether by the consumer on their terms.

That’s why search engines are making so much money. Discoverability is the key.

Understand where and how your audience spends their time researching your product or service. Then go where they are. Don’t expect them to come to you.

Why You Care About This

You care about this, or you should.

If marketing is cheating and trickery, then marketers must find shortcuts and loopholes, and it’s OK for others to cheat and trick you.

If marketing is helpful, entertaining communication, well-executed, then marketers must be great communicators, and all marketing should teach, entertain and compel us, just a little.

Which sounds better to you?

[Thanks to Seth Godin and David Ogilvy, as well as John Caples, for the many great learnings behind this post.]

I know, I know, I’m awfully pompous this week. I’ll stop after this, I promise. I think my impending 40th birthday (still months away) is making me try to turn my life hawking bullet proof vests and wedding tchochkes into a higher pursuit.

I wrote a book about this stuff, by the way. get it, and you’ll have my undying gratitude.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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  1. I really love this way of seeing marketing. I’m “learning” marketing at highschool right now, but the only thing I get to learn is the 4p’s and all the old idea’s about marketing.
    Marketing is online, if you aren’t online, you’re nowhere!

  2. Ian 🙂
    This is absolutely hilarious and 100% the gospel truth about what marketing really is, rather should be. I especially like your part on “Information.” This is often missed by online marketers, because of all the direct marketing, hype they get sucked into.
    Great post!
    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  3. Ian
    Right on, people are so tired of being slammed with hype. I haven’t had a Television or a couple years now and don’t miss any of it.
    Web 2,0 is a dream come true for the kind of marketing you talk about. I call it Attraction Marketing. There is no end of ways to put information out in the social web. Associate with like minded people and some of them will want to know more. The value of marketing with education is even more with information products.
    Not all marketers recognize this approach as a solid reliable way to generate business. I am looking for ways the attraction / education approach has been quantified with tracking or statistics so I could show more marketers the value of this. If you know of any please contact me.

  4. lol That is awesome. You hit the points with such simplicity that is has to make sense to anyone reading it. The point of giving vs. slapping was particularly funny and informative. 🙂
    Nice post!

  5. I do think there is still a place for traditional print marketing and TV/radio commercials. But they definitely don’t dominate like they used to. I have had several very successful print ads and several successful online ads. The MOST successful advertising though has come for free from word of mouth and product reviews. People trust other people who aren’t affiliated with a product. Word of mouth is still powerful.

  6. @castocreations Oh definitely. But they need to fit into a larger strategy, and that larger strategy has to incorporate online and this principle of ‘discoverability’. I’m not sure Cal Worthington and his Dog Spot will work any more.

  7. I prefer to think of marketing as a verb – to create a market – which doesn’t change your definition. Marketing (ala’ ClueTrain) is a continuing conversation. And Jay Abraham was the first to teach me (well, after Earl Nightingale) that there was no such thing as consumers (those who merely consume) or customers (creatures of custom/habit) – but only *clients* which you help expand their own wealth through the service you provide.
    One of the best advices I’ve heard is to turn off that TV and get all the news you feel you need from the Internet, your needed entertainment through a DVD subscription (or your local library).
    Web 2.0, combined with earlier communities like eBay, make for some very interesting discussions. And those conversations we all profit from.
    The most recent advance in marketing is the auction site, where you are dealing with buyers and shoppers. You want to service buyers so they come back again and again. You want to convert shoppers to buyers and then have them come back again and again.
    Both shoppers and buyers at auction sites take your concept of discoverability to a higher and more efficient level. Analysis tools (such as HammerTap) allow you to find market trends and join into the existing conversation.

  8. I’ll offer a variation on the definition of marketing — the alignment of needs and solutions to everyone’s benefit. Following Ian’s breakdown if you aren’t talking with people you don’t understand their point of view, desires and aspirations. So how can you satisfy a need? The Internet has made everyone smarter so conversations – regardless of where they occur – play havoc with the assumption that you can run people through the sales funnel quickly and under your own control. The ‘consideration’ stage is full of side-bar conversations that you need to understand.

  9. Excellent point, especially about the side bar conversations. There is no marketing ‘funnel’ any more.

  10. Good article Ian. Like your kind of Marketing 2.0 ish views, try the pull instead of the push techniques…Don’t put banners everywhere on sites where people don’t want to see them, but make it targeted..give the people what they want!
    Most companies seem to understand this concept by now by the way 🙂

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