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What marketing is and how it has changed over time

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

What does marketing mean? What’s the difference between digital and traditional marketing? Why is marketing important and how has it changed over time?

In this article, you will learn the fundamentals to run and manage a marketing campaign. I’ll show you examples, case studies and definitions about every type of marketing. This article represents the basics in understanding a #MarketingPlan.

Now, don’t be shy and dig in!

Table of contents


According to Marketing and management of Kotler and Keller, marketing is the ability to identify and match human and social needs. In a few words, meeting needs profitability.

Definition of traditional marketing

Marketing is a process composed by marketers and prospects. Marketers search for a response from another player called a prospect.

Marketers role is understanding prospects’ needs and wants, stimulate their demand, and offer a solution that brings value to both sides. They can represent a middle person who aims at meeting companies’ and prospects’ objectives.

A traditional definition of marketing is given by the American Marketing Association (AMA):

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.

It is clear that everything starts from the consumer and their demand of goods and services. In marketing, there are different types of demands:

  • Negative demand: consumers don’t like the product/service and are also willing to pay to stay away from it;

  • Non-existent demand: consumers don’t have interest in buying the product/service or are unaware of its existence;

  • Latent demand: it is a strong request of a product/service, but the product/service itself doesn’t exist yet. It represents a huge potential for marketers;

  • Declining demand: the need of a certain product/service is decreasing and consumers stop buying it. For a company, it represents the time to innovate or change the offering;

  • Irregular demand: consumers purchase a product/service seasonally. It represents a risk for a company, since it causes an irregular cash flow;

  • Full demand: the product/service is regularly purchased by consumers;

  • Overfull demand: the demand of a product/service is greater than its availability in the market;

  • Unwholesome demand: consumers buy products/services that have negative social implications. For instance: cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and others.

Marketers should understand the underlying reasons of a certain demand to increase the desirability of their offering.

The concept of demand is critical in marketing. According to a survey of CB Insights the major reason why startups fail in 2019 is because the market doesn’t need their product/service (42% of startups fail for mismatch between their offering and demand).

We have just understood the meaning of demand, but what about the market?

Difference between market and industry

Defining a market as a physical place where supply and demand meet is not enough.

A market represents a group of consumers expressing a specific demand.

Sellers are considered part of the industry, instead buyers are part of the market. When marketers target a distinct audience, it means they aim at a specific market.

The image below represents the interactions among the five types of market in a modern economy.

Five types of market in a modern economy
Structure of flows in a modern exchange economy according to Marketing and management of Kotler and Keller.

Manufacturers buy resources (raw material, labor, money…) and transform them into products and services. Then, they sell finished products to intermediaries (companies or individuals) that in turn sell them to the final consumers.

Consumers sell their labor in exchange for money which they can spend to purchase products and services.

The government collects taxes and uses them to buy products and services from the other four markets to provide public services.

Every nation’s economy consists in exchanging processes between interconnected markets.

This is just a fictional representation and some flows must be adapted case by case. For example, online businesses can use digital platforms and advertising to easily reach the final consumers without passing through traditional intermediaries.

Nevertheless, a digital platform itself is an intermediary. Facebook Ads allows companies to reach their target audience and a CMS (Content Management System, like WordPress, Magento, Wix and so on) facilitates the dialogue between a business and multiple visitors at the same time (just think of a website).

This flowchart can be broken down into even more passages. Let’s consider the traditional publishing industry. A writer who wants to publish their book must find an agent, the first intermediary. The agent sells their work to a publisher, a second intermediary, which sells the book to the final consumer or can sell the rights to a film producer, which is another intermediary.

Example of marketing system

A marketing process can be depicted as a stream of mutual interactions between a market and an industry. The image below illustrates a basic marketing system.

Marketing system example
Marketing system example by Marketing and management of Kotler and Keller.

This relationship is represented by an exchange of sellers’ goods, services and communications (like ads or direct mail) for people’s money and information (like customer behavior or sales data).

The internal loop portrays the flow between money and products/services, instead the external loop shows the stream of information.



Although laymen think traditional and digital marketing are two different processes, digital marketing is nothing more than a marketing system applied on the Internet.

The differences between traditional and digital marketing are not in the method/system itself, but in some technicalities, rules and way of thinking that must be slightly adapted to the online world.

That’s why professionals usually specialize in one of the two. For example, I’ve chosen to specialize in digital marketing and help organizations do business online. You can schedule my digital marketing consultancy now!

Example of digital marketing system

Being more practical, digital marketing is a system that facilitates and stimulates the transactional relationship between online businesses and consumers.

It aims at generating money from a specific target audience.

Example of digital marketing funnel
Example of digital marketing system and funnel.

In the image above, I have reproduced a typical digital marketing system.

Given a specific product/service, a business starts advertising to its target audience (a group of consumers representing potential buyers).

The users who responded to the adverts are poured into a digital marketing funnel. The latter is a series of content that encourage users to take certain actions. It allows the business to skim qualified leads (real potential buyers) from those who are not in target or not interested.

This process is part of what it is called lead generation. In brief, I can define a lead as a prospect who has strongly and publicly expressed their interest in a company’s product/service.

So, the user receives a sequence of videos where they are indoctrinated and learn more about the offering (features, benefits, opportunities, value proposition...).

If the user doesn’t finish the sequence, an automated system moves them into another mailing list and tries to bring them back to the video sequence. If they still don’t take the bait, it means the user is not in target or the offer must be reviewed.

If the user finishes the video sequence and clicks to the final CTA (Call To Action), they are ready to receive the first offer.

If they buy, they become customers and the company can try two different strategies:

  • Upsell: trying to sell an upgraded version of the product/service (e.g.: a bigger size of French fries);

  • Cross-sell: trying to sell a related or complementary product/service (e.g.: French fries and a sandwich).

For both cases, the loop starts again from the beginning: customers must be educated on the offering, selected and persuaded to buy.

If the user doesn’t accept the first offer, it’s useless trying to upsell or cross-sell. It is more appropriate to activate a downsell strategy: trying to sell a downgraded and cheaper version of the product/service (e.g.: a smaller size of French fries).

Again, the digital marketing system repeats.

If the user rejects the downsell, it means they are not in target or the offering must be reviewed to be more appealing.

Downsell, upsell and cross-sell are only possible if the business has a value (or ascendency) ladder.

Value ladder example
Example of value ladder (or ascendency ladder).

A value ladder is fundamental in marketing and represents the key to increase profits and expand the customer base.

The worst 3 mistakes in digital (and traditional) marketing

The worst three mistakes that entrepreneurs make in marketing are starting a business based on their:

  1. Passion;

  2. Skills;

  3. Interest.

Many gurus say that you can make a list of your passions, pick one and start a business on it.

Or why not founding a business on your skills? If you are so good at something, why can’t you make money from it?

The last trap for laymen is starting a business on one of your interests.

Why is starting a business upon passions, skills or interests wrong?

Passions, skills and interests are based on your individuality and not always reflect a real demand for which people are willing to pay.

In fact, I already explained before that marketing starts from the market, from consumers.

If you want to start an online business and want to avoid these mistakes, I suggest reading my full guide on how to find and select the right target audience.


Marketing is not an exact science. As I always say, the only way to find out whether a marketing strategy is good or not is to test it on the field.

Good marketing is achieved through a series of mistakes: it consists of many little experiments (Growth Hacking) carried out on a regular basis.

Even if marketing must be adapted to each company, there are some common guidelines already well established. You will learn them one by one while discovering each development stage of the marketing concept.

The way people do marketing has changed over time and has evolved in what is called holistic marketing.

How could managers conceive this ultimate philosophy to successfully guide a company’s efforts?

The production approach

Back in history, managers believed consumers preferred cheap and widely available products. The production concept leads companies to improve processes and optimize manufacturing and distribution costs with scale economies and standardization.

The production approach is still used by some multinational companies which have outsourced production in China where they can find a great pool of inexpensive workers.

One of these is the world’s largest PC vendor Lenovo, controlled by the Chinese Legend Holdings Corporation. It is using the production concept to dominate and expand its market (source: Gartner’s survey on global PC shipments 2018).

The product approach

This second concept is based on the fact that consumers express their preferences according to the quality, performance or innovative features of a product/service.

But this belief is a huge mistake for marketers.

Sometimes, entrepreneurs and managers fall in love with their product and wrongly believe that a better version of it is enough for consumers to knock on their doors. Unfortunately, a product’s success is not strictly related to its superior characteristics when price, distribution, advertising and sales are not carried out properly.

The selling approach

The selling concept relies on the belief that consumers need to be pushed to buy products/services, because they will not make the first move.

Also this approach is a mousetrap.

A good market approach should start from a person’s needs and wants: companies should sell what the market wants, not what they make.

Aggressive selling or persuasive strategies can lead consumers to stop buying that product/service, review it negatively and spread bad word of mouth.

The marketing approach

In the middle of the 20th century, economists developed for the first time the marketing concept.

In 1960, Journal of Marketing issued The marketing revolution by Robert J. Keith, chairman of the board of Pillsbury (a Minnesota-based company, world leader in grain and other foodstuffs production), where he explained how businesses should find the right product for their customers rather than the right customers for their product. For instance, Dell’s e-commerce is not only a place where you can buy products, but also a platform where you can personalize them (it’s where I personalized my Alienware).

In 1960, the American economist and Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt published Marketing myopia on Harvard Business Review and showed to the world how marketing was the answer to achieving organizational goals:

Selling focuses on the needs of the seller; marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with the seller’s need to convert his product into cash; marketing with the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of the product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering and finally consuming it.


Nowadays, marketing is a crossover element in a company and influences all processes and activities. That’s why managers have to make and design marketing programs that recognize this interdependency and interact with each other.

As you can see from the image below, holistic marketing is formed by four broad dimensions: relationship marketing, integrated marketing, internal marketing and performance marketing.

The holistic marketing components
The holistic marketing concept is made out of four elements: internal marketing, integrated marketing, relationship marketing and performance marketing.

Relationship marketing

Relationship marketing represents strategies, processes and activities that enable a business to establish and develop long-living and mutually satisfying relationships with its customers.

Marketers should understand the goals of each stakeholder and try to best satisfy them. According to Marketing and management of Kotler and Keller, there are four main stakeholders who must be taken care of for a successful relationship marketing:

  • Customers;

  • Employees;

  • Partners (suppliers, distributors, dealers, agencies...);

  • Financial entities (shareholders, investors, analysts...).

In 1994, Journal of Marketing issued Dyadic business relationships within a

business network context where the “marketing network” was explained: a unique asset made out of the value of the relationships between a business and its stakeholders.

This is also the main asset on which modern companies are founded. In fact, they usually acquire or build strong brands, rather than purchasing physical assets, and delegate production to external manufacturers that can fulfill this task with less costs.

Relationship marketing is also focused on retaining customers.

Marketers should be aware that retaining an existing customer can be 5 times cheaper than acquiring a new one (according to Kotler and Keller).

One way to achieve this is by acquiring strong intel on the target audience (demographics, behavioral traits, past purchasing trends and preferences...) and price the offering to maximize profits over customers’ lifetime. In other words, marketers have to estimate their customer’s lifetime value and act accordingly.

Another is maintaining relationships through a good Customer Relationship Management (CRM). For example, HubSpot links marketing and sales with customers’ activities over time. You always have a clear overview of their historical records: what action they took on your website, what email they have left unanswered, what stage of the buyer journey they are in and so on. In this way, the sales and marketing team can coordinate to better satisfy each customer and retain them over time.

Integrated marketing

This dimension is founded on two principles:

  1. Marketing activities can communicate, create and deliver value together;

  2. Marketers should develop and implement marketing activities with all the others in mind.

Ok, but what does it mean in practice?

Let’s deepen it with a step-by-step example.

Consider a company which sells goods online. It needs:

  • An e-commerce to sell its goods online;

  • A system to manage payments from clients and, possibly, also payroll for employees;

  • A CRM to manage the orders and its customers;

  • An automated marketing system, let’s say an email marketing tool;

  • An event manager for trade shows, exhibitions, new products launch and so on;

  • A blog to promote their products/ideas;

  • A monitoring system to keep track of all users’ activities and relevant KPIs;

  • Advertising strategies.

Considering this list of must-have systems, the first principle of integrated marketing tells us that email marketing helps selling goods online and creates additional value, because it lets customers discover new relevant products, features or discounts.

A blog post can organically (without paid ads) attract new visitors and transmit to them new knowledge. But it may not be enough to make them buy, so they leave the website after reading.

At this point, you start advertising on social media by retargeting the blog post visitors. If your retargeting and content strategies are good, you should be able to bring back on board those visitors and convert them into customers.

All clear?

Now, let’s consider the second principle of integrated marketing.

A company shouldn’t choose a system just because it is the best in the market. It should think of other pros and cons, like: does this tool integrate with other marketing platforms and activities?

An example of bad integrated marketing would be using Magento as a CMS, Mailchimp for email marketing, WordPress as a blog, HubSpot as a CRM, Paypal for online payments and QuickBooks for payrolls and bills.


Because you have six different platforms that you have to pay and manage separately. You would slow down processes and increase cyber-security risks. Besides, the more tools you use, the more skills your team needs to manage them.

Such a headache right?

I can bet this is a problem of many businesses. So, how can you activate positively integrated marketing?

According to the previous example, I would choose Wix as a main platform, because it includes an e-commerce, a CRM, an event manager, a blog, a payment manager (Wix Payments) and an email marketing system (Ascend by Wix). Then, I would choose WaveApps for accounting, because it integrates perfectly with Wix: you can use it directly on Wix without switching platform.

Now, you have your online business operational and under control from just one single interface.

The second principle of integrated marketing doesn’t refer only to tools and costs optimization, but also to a much broader range of activities.

For instance, BMW launched in 2002 a new version of the MINI Cooper and targeted the US market with an integrated marketing strategy. It included a wide media mix: billboards, posters, Internet, print, PR, product placement and guerrilla (also called grassroots) campaigns. They were connected to a smartly designed website with product and dealer information.

Internal marketing

Attracting loyal customers is only half of the job. Finding, training, motivating and retaining great talents also consists of a marketing activity.

The role of internal marketing is making sure that employees and partners are aligned with mission, vision and overall marketing strategy. In this way, they can provide the best service and send a unique branding message to customers at every touch point.

Performance marketing

Performance marketing is based on the understanding of monetary and non-monetary returns to a business. It goes beyond sales and also accounts non-monetary factors like brand awareness, engagement, product quality, customer satisfaction and so on.

It includes all the elements that influence directly or indirectly a company’s performance. Particularly:

  • Financial accountability: marketers should be able to evaluate the profitability of marketing activities to justify the financial investments received. It requires a savvy setup of KPIs and interpretation of data in order to attribute a commercial value to intangible assets like brand, customer base, employees, relations with suppliers or distributors and so on;

  • Social responsibility marketing: people are becoming day by day more social conscious and businesses must match this trend by demonstrating they are capable of preserving and enhancing the society. Marketers should consider the ethical, environmental, legal and social context while developing a strategy. Incorporating social responsibility in marketing is also a way to differentiate from competitors. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s (my favorite American ice-cream), split the financial bottom line to additionally measure the environmental impact of their products and processes (source: What matters most by Jeffrey Hollender and Stephen Fenichell).


Now that you have learned what marketing means and how you can build a digital marketing system, would you make any changes in your organization? Drop your thoughts in the comments below and let’s connect!

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