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What is Marketing?

by Mark Powell:
throwback imageGood marketing is key to the success of any business. Most people would readily agree with this statement but it is surprising how much variation there is in what people think of as “marketing.” Before you read any further I want you to take a few seconds to think about what you understand of this term, “marketing.”

I would imagine that you thought this question would be relatively easy; after all, everyone knows what marketing is, right? In reality, it is one of those terms that everyone recognizes, but finds very hard to define. You can also try asking friends, colleagues, customers and staff the same question and see what responses they give. The answers will probably include some mixture of advertising, selling, customer needs, value, strategy, positioning or promotions.

Part of the reason for the range of answers is that marketing has changed over the years, and many people have definitions that come from different stages in it’s evolution.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, there was not a huge variety or availability of products. Put simply, customers bought the products that were available, and so marketing was associated with selling. We can call this the Marketing=Selling period. Marketing involved selling the products that a company made. As a result, marketing was a sales support function involving advertising the product to the consumer, setting a competitive price and having effective salespeople.

In the 1970’s and early 80’s, a wider proliferation of products, increased technology and competition from countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea changed the way customers looked at products. This required a more sophisticated approach to marketing with more focus on effective promotions and market research. During this period, marketing communications developed as a way to better get the message to the customer. Sales techniques became more sophisticated and this led to a phase referred to as the Marketing=Selling+ period.

In the late 1980’s and into the early 90’s, the focus shifted from products that the company was producing to products that the customer wanted to buy. This led to a major shift in the way marketing was viewed, and more market-focused companies, rather than product-focused. Rather than trying to convince the customer they wanted to buy the products that had been developed by the company, marketing was used to help design products that would appeal to customers. We can refer to this as the Marketing=Accepted Philosophy approach.

In the 1990’s and into 2000, this approach was developed further so that marketing influenced not just the product development process, but the whole approach of the company. In this way, marketing became one of the key tools for strategic planning. Companies were driven by the requirements of the market and specifically by meeting the needs of customers. The aim was to develop a superior value proposition for the customer by focusing not just on the product, but also on the service provided to the customer and the image of the company. This is known as the Marketing=Driving Philosophy period.

marketing evolution

So it is no wonder that marketing has many meanings to different people. It has been used to in very different ways; from a slightly more sophisticated way to sell products, to the driving philosophy of a company’s strategy. Your answer to the question, “what is marketing?” asked at the start of this article will give an indication as to which period of marketing you are thinking of.

This history lesson in the development of marketing might be very interesting from an academic point of view, but how is it important to a scuba diving instructor or dive centre owner?

The fact is, the diving industry has gone though a very similar process. At the start of our industry, diving instruction and products were very rare and were desperately sought out by those who wanted to become scuba divers. Scuba diving was new, innovative and exciting. Customers were desperate to buy the product, and so the only marketing required was to make sure the eager customer knew where you were. This is the equivalent of the Marketing=Selling period. As the number of instructors and products increased, and professional agencies developed well structured programs, it became more important to differentiate yourself from other instructors, centres and products. During this phase, the Marketing=Selling+ approach worked well.

As scuba diving became more established, and other adventurous pastimes became more popular, instructors, dive centres and scuba equipment manufacturers had to focus more on identifying and meeting the customer’s needs. More tailored programmes were introduced, as well as a range of equipment to suit different needs. This shows how the industry had moved into the Marketing=Accepted Philosophy period.

Today many divers are also regular mountain bikers, skiers and social activists, as well as family members and business people with time and financial commitments. Providing a service that suits and appeals to these customers is a much bigger challenge than in the past, and one that can only be achieved by adopting a Marketing=Driving Philosophy approach. If your view of marketing is stuck in one of the previous periods, then your business is at risk from the competitor down the street who is offering what the customers really want, presented in a way that appeals to them, and structured in a way that is consistent with their other commitments. On the other hand, if you adopt a Marketing=Driving Philosophy approach you can develop and grow a strong business which matches the requirements of your customers. This approach will also allow you to adapt to their changing demands and to the social, technological and political factors that affect the diving industry.


Mark Powell is a SDI/TDI Instructor Trainer, consultant to the diving industry and the author of Deco For Divers. Prior to becoming employed full time in the diving industry, Mark was a visiting lecturer at the London School of Business and Management after serving in a range of international sales and marketing management roles.

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