What is the meaning of 'marketing'?
The chance to define
something--anything--not only for yourself but for an entire
industry and for years to come is a rare opportunity
Since 1948, the American Marketing
Association has been responsible for the official definition
of marketing, used in books, by marketing professionals and
taught in university lecture halls nationwide. For the last
year or so, Dr. Robert Lusch has had the privilege of leading
the effort to rewrite and update the AMA's official definition
Dr. Lusch, a former AMA chairman and
head of the marketing department at Eller College of
Management at University of Arizona in Tucson, incorporated
the contributions of many correspondents from around the
world, both academics and practitioners. The fruits of their
labor were unveiled at the AMA Summer Educators' Conference in
Boston in August.
"(It was most rewarding) working with
a group of concerned professionals who were serious about
making the AMA definition more contemporary," Dr. Lusch
Marketers are nearly unanimous in
feeling that the industry is rapidly changing (see "Marketing
redefined: Nine top marketers offer their personal
definitions," page 16). That was not always the case.
The first official definition of
marketing was adopted in 1935 by the National Association of
Marketing Teachers, an AMA predecessor organization. The AMA
adopted it in 1948, and again in 1960 when the AMA revisited
the definition and decided not to change it. This original
definition stood for 50 years, in fact, until it was revised
The original, 1935 definition
"(Marketing is) the performance of
business activities that direct the flow of goods and services
from producers to consumers."
In the mid-1980s, the first revisions
were made to the definition. The new version read:
"(Marketing is) the process of
planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and
distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges
that satisfy individual and organizational objectives."
"The thing about the '85 definition
that was so appealing was that it juxtaposed the 4Ps and the
focus on 'exchange.' In '85, that was probably a pretty big
deal," says Dr. Greg Marshall. Dr. Marshall is immediate past
head of the AMA's academic division, which oversaw the most
recent rewrite, and professor of marketing at Crummer Graduate
School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. The
new definition, as released by the American Marketing
"Marketing is an organizational
function and a set of processes for creating, communicating
and delivering value to customers and for managing customer
relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its
Says Dr. Marshall, "What we have is
more strategic. Now it says marketing is really something that
makes the organization run."
The impetus to examine the official
definition, with an eye on possibly rewriting it, came from
AMA CEO Dennis Dunlap. Some members had suggested it might be
time for an update. Also, in the late '90s and early '00s,
several industry thought leaders had noted the dramatic
changes underway in marketing.
"... (A)n alternative paradigm of
marketing is needed, a paradigm that can account for the
continuous nature of relationships among marketing actors,"
wrote Jagdish Sheth and Atul Parvatiyar in the Handbook of
Relationship Marketing in 2000.
Dunlap and Dr. Marshall began to
consider whether and how to tackle the project, beginning in
late summer 2003.
"As we got into this, it was clear the
definition didn't reflect marketing today," Dunlap says.
Dr. Lusch was tapped for the project,
in part because he had worked on the 1985 revision.
In 1985, Dr. Lusch served on a
committee, but this time he worked independently, keeping his
collaboration with others on a continuous, but less formal,
"The reason we were able to (work with
a committee then) is that the existing definition of marketing
had been used for 50 years. It didn't talk about planning,
customer satisfaction, feedback," Dr. Lusch says. "Everybody
agreed we needed to change.
"As I surveyed people (in 2004), there
were a number who thought the (1985) definition worked fine
and we should leave it alone. And we ended up with ... a more
evolutionary change than in 1985," he says.
The Internet proved vital to Dr.
Lusch's mission. He first solicited feedback on the 1985
definition via the Elmar listserv. Later, he used e-mail to
circulate a short white paper that included a proposed
rewritten definition. Ultimately, the members of the AMA's
Board of Directors were asked for their thoughts.
Dr. Lusch acknowledges there was no
shortage of opinions.
"There was discussion about marketing
being about 'collaborating with customers and partners,' but
that (language) did not survive. Many argued it was ... what
marketing should do, but many firms were not yet practicing"
that kind of collaborative marketing, he says.
Dr. Lusch says he was most struck by
the diversity of correspondents' views: "Some view it as a
managerial activity, but others view it as a broad societal
activity. And e-mails from other parts of the world gave
additional perspective." Europeans and Australians, for
example, were most likely to argue that marketing is a
societal process (although some Americans thought so,
"I don't disagree," Dr. Lusch says,
"but if we tried to define every kind of marketing, (the
definition) would be wordy and confusing. Because it's used to
introduce students to the discipline, we needed something
Dr. Lusch says the most challenging
part of his assignment was "being patient and listening."
By July '04, the e-mail exchanges,
conference calls and negotiations had come down to a 32-word
sentence that had broad-based support. This definition was
endorsed in a vote of the Board in time to be introduced at
the conference in August.
"It's appropriate that this would be
unveiled first at Summer Ed," Dr. Marshall says. "AMA is
really re-energized in this initiative toward thought
leadership. One thing academics can do is disseminate
knowledge. This will filter down into the textbooks and give
us the opening to talk about marketing at the strategic
By revising and updating the
definition, notes Dennis Dunlap, "AMA reinforces our marketing
leadership position. Also, this speaks in a small way to how
we are more contemporary today as an organization."
Looking ahead, those involved with the
process sense that fewer than 19 years will pass before the
definition is updated again.
"It's something that should last a
while," Dunlap says. "But logic would suggest it should be
revisited maybe every five years."
PHOTO (COLOR): LUSCH
By Lisa M. Keefe, Editor