Marketing, the sum of activities involved in directing the flow of goods and services from producers to consumers.
Marketing’s principal function is to promote and facilitate exchange. Through marketing, individuals and groups obtain what they need and want by exchanging products and services with other parties. Such a process can occur only when there are at least two parties, each of whom has something to offer. In addition, exchange cannot occur unless the parties are able to communicate about and to deliver what they offer. Marketing is not a coercive process: all parties must be free to accept or reject what others are offering. So defined, marketing is distinguished from other modes of obtaining desired goods, such as through self-production, begging, theft, or force.
Marketing is not confined to any particular type of economy, because goods must be exchanged and therefore marketed in all economies and societies except perhaps in the most primitive. Furthermore, marketing is not a function that is limited to profit-oriented business; even such institutions as hospitals, schools, and museums engage in some forms of marketing. Within the broad scope of marketing, merchandising is concerned more specifically with promoting the sale of goods and services to consumers (i.e., retailing) and hence is more characteristic of free-market economies.
Based on these criteria, marketing can take a variety of forms: it can be a set of functions, a department within an organization, a managerial process, a managerial philosophy, and a social process.
Facts Matter. Support the truth and unlock all of Britannica’s content.
The evolving discipline of marketing
The marketing discipline had its origins in the early 20th century as an offspring of economics. Economic science had neglected the role of middlemen and the role of functions other than price in the determination of demand levels and characteristics. Early marketing economists examined agricultural and industrial markets and described them in greater detail than the classical economists. This examination resulted in the development of three approaches to the analysis of marketing activity: the commodity, the institution, and the function.
Commodity analysis studies the ways in which a product or product group is brought to market. A commodity analysis of milk, for example, traces the ways in which milk is collected at individual dairy farms, transported to and processed at local dairy cooperatives, and shipped to grocers and supermarkets for consumer purchase. Institutional analysis describes the types of businesses that play a prevalent role in marketing, such as wholesale or retail institutions. For instance, an institutional analysis of clothing wholesalers examines the ongoing concerns that wholesalers face in order to ensure both the correct supply for their customers and the appropriate inventory and shipping capabilities. Finally, a functional analysis examines the general tasks that marketing performs. For example, any marketing effort must ensure that the product is transported from the supplier to the customer. In some industries this transportation function may be handled by a truck, while in others it may be done by mail or e-mail, facsimile, television signal, the Internet, or airline. All these institutions perform the same function.
As the study of marketing became more prevalent throughout the 20th century, large companies—particularly mass consumer manufacturers—began to recognize the importance of market research, better product design, effective distribution, and sustained communication with consumers in the success of their brands. Marketing concepts and techniques later moved into the industrial-goods sector and subsequently into the services sector. It soon became apparent that organizations and individuals market not only goods and services but also ideas (social marketing), places (location marketing), personalities (celebrity marketing), events (event marketing), and even the organizations themselves (public relations).