Why It Matters: What Is Marketing?

Why learn about marketing?

When you hear the term “marketing,” what comes to mind?

Based on what you know about marketing right now, what one word would you use to describe it? Take a moment to write it down. We’ll come back to it shortly.

Marketing is a tool used by companies, organizations, and people to shape our perceptions and persuade us to change our behavior. The most effective marketing uses a well-designed strategy and a variety of techniques to alter how people think about and interact with the object in question. Less-effective marketing causes people to turn off, tune out, or not even notice.

Why should you care about marketing? Marketing is an ever-present force in modern society, and it can work amazingly well to influence what we do and why we do it. Consider these points:

Marketing sells products.

Results of an Amazon "recommendation." The text reads, "Recommendations for You," and shows five book covers: Little Lost Unicorn, Unicorn Wings, Glitter Tattoos: Unicorns, 50 State Commemorative Quarters, Unicorns Coloring Book.

Source: Amazon recommendation engine

Marketing changes how you think about things.

Marketing shifts behavior.

Ad has a picture of a "crying Indian" on the righthand side; text on the left reads, "Get involved now. Pollution hurts all of us."

Ad Council’s 1961–1983 anti-pollution campaign for Keep America Beautiful. The iconic “Crying Indian” ad, which featured Italian-American actor Iron Eyes Cody, first aired on Earth Day in 1971. The campaign helped reduce litter by as much as 88 percent by 1983 and won two Clio Awards.

Marketing creates memorable experiences.


Marketing alters history.


Marketing can use a variety of elements to shape perceptions and behavior: words, images, design, experiences, emotions, stories, relationships, humor, sex appeal, etc. And it can use a wide variety of tactics, from advertising and events to social media and search-engine optimization. Often the purpose is to sell products, but as you can see from the examples above, the goal of any specific marketing effort may have little to do with money and much more to do with what you think and do.

By the time you finish this course, you will have a broader understanding of marketing beyond TV commercials and billboards and those annoying pop-up ads on the Web sites you visit. You’ll learn how to see marketing for what it is. You’ll learn how to be a smart consumer and a smart user of marketing techniques when the need for them arises in your life.

Go back to that word you jotted down to describe marketing at the top of the page. Now that you’ve had a little more exposure to the concept, what word comes to mind to describe “marketing”? Is it the same word you chose earlier, or are you starting to think differently?

Stay tuned for more!