Introduction to marketing

Marketing is dynamic and impactful. The details differ between industries, but at its most basic marketing is how businesses reach prospective customers and communicate the unique benefits of a product or service. It encompasses all the activities that companies undertake to promote, sell, and distribute that product or service. The goal is to generate sales and build a loyal customer base by informing prospective and existing buyers about the offering.

Your target audience must first be aware that your product or service exists before you can hope to inspire a purchase. An essential function in any business, marketing supports efforts to acquire, keep, and grow customers.

But marketing does not end there — ongoing engagement also helps build loyalty and establish a long-term relationship. Effective programs and campaigns reach and engage audiences, differentiate the company from competitors, and support larger business objectives, such as increasing sales or expanding to a new market.

Marketing history

Marketing is as old as selling. The word “marketing” likely originates from Europe in the early 1500s, when traveling merchants sold food and other goods at town markets. But the practice of marketing is even older. Archeological evidence shows that ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece, and Rome distributed advertisements and branded items for sale.

Marketing practices have evolved as society and technology have progressed. Here are some of the key developments from the past few centuries:

1800s

The Industrial Revolution introduced major innovations in technology, transportation, and mass production.

  • By the mid-1800s, companies had the ability to mass-produce items and transport them over large distances. As a result, selling began to shift from a local activity to a more national (or in some cases, international) one.

  • In turn, customer demand for goods grew as a wider variety of products were readily available for purchase.

  • Merchants typically advertised their goods by displaying posters in public spaces. Businesses began leasing billboards in the 1860s to communicate to larger groups of people, and by 1872, a billboard lobbying group called the International Bill Posters Association of North America was established. (Today it is known as the Out of Home Advertising Association of America.)

1900s

The advertising revolution ushered in new ways for businesses to broadcast their message and reach potential customers. Some of these new channels included radio (early 1920s), television (early 1940s), and the telephone (mid-1940s).

  • With more ways to communicate with audiences than ever before, companies adopted new strategies in order to gain customers and stay competitive.

  • Marketing professionals started communicating the unique benefits of their offerings and examining demographic data (such as education level and salary).

  • In 1956, Wendell R. Smith, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, summarized these new practices in a famous article titled “Product Differentiation and Market Segmentation as Alternative Marketing Strategies.”

  • In the 1960s, many companies began investing in marketing departments — teams dedicated to reaching customers and gaining market share.

2000s

The digital revolution radically transformed marketing. In particular, the growing use of the internet opened up new ways to engage customers, leading to the rise of e-commerce and online marketing.

  • In the late 1990s, companies began building simple websites to share information about their products and services.

  • Google and MSN launched search engines that ranked websites based on a variety of metrics. Companies began investing in search engine optimization to appear at the top of the results.

  • Most businesses today use some combination of digital tactics to engage with their core audience and grow their brand. These include search engine marketing, blogging, online and mobile advertising, email, video, and social media.

  • As new technologies emerge, companies are incorporating different approaches to reaching customers — such as voice-assisted devices and augmented or virtual realities.

Marketing functional areas

Marketing is a diverse field. The structure and organization of a team can vary depending on several factors, including the industry, size of the company, and unique organizational needs. A small startup may have only one dedicated marketing professional, while a multinational corporation may have hundreds.

No matter how it is organized, a marketing team is typically responsible for the following functions:

  • Advertising

  • Brand marketing

  • Channel marketing

  • Communications

  • Content marketing

  • Digital marketing

  • Email marketing

  • Media relations and PR

  • Partner marketing

  • Product marketing

  • Search engine marketing

  • Social media marketing

Marketing responsibilities

Responsibilities can vary greatly depending on the specific role and type of organization. But most marketing roles share a few common areas of focus. In general, these include setting (or implementing) the strategy and planning (or implementing) programs and campaigns.

Leaders are typically tasked with presenting strategic marketing plans and progress to executives and representing the group’s work at cross-functional meetings. Marketing teammates usually focus on more tactical activities, such as crafting messaging or monitoring analytics to track the performance of campaigns. No matter what your role is, you are ultimately responsible for driving the growth of the business. Some of the core activities include:

  • Defining the marketing strategy

  • Conducting market research

  • Performing competitive differentiation

  • Crafting positioning and messaging

  • Building marketing roadmaps

  • Generating leads

  • Running A/B tests

  • Optimizing landing pages

  • Communicating with customers

  • Preparing for product launches

  • Cultivating press and analyst relations

  • Raising brand awareness

Marketing certifications

A job in marketing is usually fast-paced and highly collaborative — requiring you to stay abreast of trends and constantly hone your skills. To be successful, you need to know the marketing terms, have the right skills, and grasp how the different roles work together. Given the importance of technology to digital marketing, it is also helpful to be familiar with the tools customers use.

As demand for proficient marketing professionals has grown, several companies, organizations, and universities have started offering online training and certificate programs. If you are interested in pursuing a new role or building upon your existing skills, there are many options. Here is a short list of some of the more popular ones:

  • Cornell University Online Marketing Certificates
    Cornell offers seven online programs in brand management, corporate communication, digital marketing, digital photography, integrated marketing, marketing analytics, and marketing strategy. Courses are designed for a broad audience — everyone from marketing managers and public relations professionals to entrepreneurs can benefit. Find out more here.

  • Google Ads Certification
    Becoming certified in Google Ads means that you have mastered Google’s online advertising platform. There are multiple certifications available, including search, display, and video. Depending on which certification you pursue, you may learn how to build and optimize campaigns or use YouTube to reach your audience and boost conversions. Learn more about the Google Ads Certification here.

  • Google Analytics Individual Qualification
    Google Analytics is an important tool for digital marketers. It gives data and insights to better understand your audience — visitors to your website, prospects, and customers. The Google Analytics Individual Qualification shows your proficiency in Google Analytics. Read more here.

  • Microsoft Advertising Certified Professional
    This free program from Microsoft is aimed at digital marketers and advertisers who want to maximize their knowledge of Microsoft’s PPC advertising platform. The program consists of a series of courses and an exam covering everything from the fundamentals of search engine marketing to how to optimize your budget. Explore the program here.

  • MIT Sloan Executive Education Programs
    The MIT Sloan School of Management offers a variety of courses, certificates, and custom programs for individuals who want to build upon their leadership skills and advance their careers. Although not all courses are geared specifically towards marketing professionals, several are. These include classes on marketing innovation, digital marketing analytics, and pricing. Find out more about the program here.

  • Pragmatic Institute’s Product Marketing Management Certification
    Pragmatic Institute offers courses in product marketing (as well as product management) with six levels of certification. Current or aspiring product marketing managers can learn how to identify a target market, create a launch plan, and set a pricing strategy. Learn more about the courses here.

  • Professional Certified Marketer
    The American Marketing Association offers this program to help marketing professionals expand their knowledge and grow their skills. Depending on your specialty, there are multiple Professional Certified Marketer tracks — digital marketing, sales management, content marketing, and marketing management. Find out more about the certifications here.

Start building your marketing skills

Marketing teams use a variety of tools and tactics to strategize, plan, and launch programs and campaigns. The articles in this section of the marketing guide will teach you how a team functions and how each role contributes to driving the growth of the business.

We created a marketing dictionary to help you quickly learn the most important marketing terms.


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