How Do You Explain Marketing to a Six-Year Old?

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Posted: August 23, 2012 | B2B Marketing

The other day, I was trying to explain to my six-year old son what I do at Marketo, and he asked “what is marketing?” I thought for a second, and said “Marketing is what you do in business when you want to help convince people to buy what you have to sell.”

I thought that was a pretty good explanation – good enough that I posted it as a LinkedIn update.  Lo and behold, that single post generated more Likes and Comments than any other LinkedIn update I’ve ever made.

Clearly something about work and kids and b2b marketing connects with people. Here are just a few of the comments to the post:

  • Celia Brown Marketing tells the business what, how, and where to sell. And then we have parties.
  • Rebekah Donaldson Marketing = articulating the value (telling what problem your product/service solves) for types of buyers. Sales = when a specific buyer and seller start talking about exactly what they have in common.
  • David Nandhra  Is it convince people to “buy”? ….. or … convince people to “want”?
  • Jim Wilton Jon, it gets a bit tougher as they get older. My friend’s eleven-year old daughter explained to me recently that marketing was what happened when people were convinced to buy something that they really didn’t need. I can only assume she was referring to B2C marketing…
  • Ken Anderson Or perhaps, “Helping people learn how to solve problems they don’t know they have”. That could be sales too I suppose.

(Based on this discussion, I’d update my definition of marketing to be “Marketing is what you do in business when you try to convince people to want and to buy what you have to sell.”)

After that basic explanation, I went on to use the example of a lemonade stand. I asked my son what he might do to get as many people to drink the lemonade as possible. I fully expected him to talk about signs and promotions (that’s where my head went first), but he actually started by talking about prices. (Start high, he said, and then lower the price if we need to – pretty clever, I thought.) And then he talked about making sure we had as good a location as possible, with lots of people. And only then did we talk about advertisements. (We also talked about making sure the lemonade was good in the first place.)

For me, this was a great reminder that marketing is so much more than just promotions and marketing campaigns. The 4 Ps (product, place, price, promotion) still matter, and marketing has a strategic role to play in the success of the business. This is actually an important reminder for any of us who spend our days thinking primarily about demand generation.

How would you explain marketing to a six-year old? Let me know in the comments!

Related Resources

  • http://www.salesportal.com/ SalesPortal

    Marketing is about convincing someone that you have the best possible solution to their problem so they pick you first. You want to make people want you on their team!

  • Paul Odnoletkov

    Marketing is an art of turning products into goods ;)

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Amber King

    Marketing is helping people understand what your company do and help convince them that your product/service is what they need.

  • Pingback: How Do You Explain Marketing to a Six-Year Old? – B2B Marketing « National-Express2011

  • http://twitter.com/ArtilleryMarket Douglas Burdett

    One of my favorites is from Peter Drucker: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

  • Ann Galland

    When you need to convince, it’s not genuine. I would say: “marketing is having a feel of what people may want, and give them more than they expected to get”

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewJStein Andrew Stein

    The problem with defining the term “marketing” is that it is a broad domain, that covers nearly every strategic element of business. And individual responses will define it based on what their unique marketing experience is, or what their job profile says they should do, which may be a limited reflection based on who wrote the job description (HR?) and the specific needs for that company. These must be aggregated, strategically.

    In broad terms, “Marketing is Strategy” and has a defined domain across the entire business, including what products and features to sell, what customer experiences must be nurtured, what markets and customer segments to target, what price and what business models to reach those targets, forward looking and rearward result measuring research, real-time metrics and tuning, and deep activity integrated into the core of the business. (I’m sure I forgot something in this list.)

    The initial postulated definition, is too limited around promoting a product (that exists) to an identified prospect that you want to convince to buy. That’s a very important element of marketing, but one that can’t be done without the value creation, value delivery, and marketing activities that sustain value in the marketplace that develop and drive brand, promote visibility, and carry on a conversation with customers.

    Marketing, in its true sense, is so much more. CEOs are demanding this more complete definition of “marketing” from those that are in the profession. The research from IBM, Aberdeen, Forrester, Heidrick and Struggles and Russell Reynolds has laid this new definition of Marketing out very clearly.

  • Leon Noone

    G’Day Jon,
    Try this. Marketing is what you do to ensure that when a prospect or customer thinks of a product or service they automatically think of you. And remember :marketing isn’t everything, but everything is marketing.

    Regards
    Leon

  • Leon Noone

    G’Day Jon,
    Try this. Marketing is what you do to ensure that when a prospect or customer thinks of a product or service they automatically think of you. And remember :marketing isn’t everything, but everything is marketing.

    Regards
    Leon

  • Kevin Payne

    Marketing is understanding what people need to address their problems/issues/concerns. It’s not just about selling what we have (that’s a sales mentality) but identifying requirements, helping to create solutions for those requirements and then being able to successfully explain that the solution meets or exceeds their requirements so that they want to use it.

  • Kevin Payne

    Marketing is understanding what people need to address their problems/issues/concerns. It’s not just about selling what we have (that’s a sales mentality) but identifying requirements, helping to create solutions for those requirements and then being able to successfully explain that the solution meets or exceeds their requirements so that they want to use it.

  • Roger Draper

    It’s what a company does to find out what products people want or might like to have, and then tries to persuade them to buy it from the company.

  • Roger Draper

    It’s what a company does to find out what products people want or might like to have, and then tries to persuade them to buy it from the company.

  • Carrie

    “Marketing” is – manipulating people into believing that…

    1) there is a problem
    2) they should trust your opinion
    3) you have a solution
    4) they should trade you their money for said solution
    5) they should tell others to do the same
    6) you never manipulated them into steps 1 through 5

  • Carrie

    “Marketing” is – manipulating people into believing that…

    1) there is a problem
    2) they should trust your opinion
    3) you have a solution
    4) they should trade you their money for said solution
    5) they should tell others to do the same
    6) you never manipulated them into steps 1 through 5

  • http://twitter.com/jonmiller Jon Miller

    Mark — I’m inclined to agree that too many companies think of marketing as an arts and crafts function, not a driver of revenue. One of the key points of my post is a reminder that marketing is a strategic function that goes much beyond promotion.

  • http://twitter.com/jonmiller Jon Miller

    Thank you to everyone for engaging in this discussion. Part of our job as marketers is explaining the complex in a simple fashion, and in some cases its hard for us to even describe what we do without dumbing it down to meaninglessness. While I don’t believe in marketing as “manipulation”, I do believe marketing has a key role to play in the success in any company.

  • Ronda

    I think it also displays new generational thinking. They are smarter more educated consumers. A jingle and a poster just won’t fly with gen-y. I saw last week an organic lemonade and gluten free brownie stand, to funny.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/karl.kleinbach.58 Karl Kleinbach

    I’ll go with Andrew’s view as well, there is a parallel function of marketing in nearly every facet and phase of the business.

  • http://twitter.com/myleadmd LeadMD

    Marketing is the conversation your solution has with problems.

  • Pingback: Can You Explain Your Business to a Six-Year-Old? - Clarity for the Boss

  • Zeynep

    My son asked me the same, I said “Marketing is teaching people about the thing you are selling and making them want to buy it”. He asked me if commercials on tv were marketing, I guess he got the idea ;-)

  • BizComGuy

    Marketing is simply Sales … but without having to look the Customer in the eye.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcelwiedenbrugge Marcel Wiedenbrugge

    Marketing consists of two words: to market and to get, so marketing is actually about ways of getting or winning the market (before your competitors do the same). For a six old child, who is for example interested in getting a new Lego toy, his main challenge is to convince his mother to buy the toy for him. As such he needs to ask his mother the right question with the right arguments and at the right time. If his mother says yes, then he did it right. However, past success is not a guarantee for future success. That’s what marketing is about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/smarkgee Mark Gee

    Few of these comments address the target audience. IE that of a 6 year old. An intelligent 6 year old will not understand much of what is said here…I have one myself so I’m pretty sure I have done the market research.

    it’s actually a good question (for a 6 year old) but Jon (author), what is business? what is selling?

    My answer “Hmmm, son. That’s a really good question. Maybe marketing helps smart little buys like you want to get that toy over there rather than this one over here. Why do you like Spiderman by the way?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/smarkgee Mark Gee

    eesh I came back to this discussion for some reason.

    You are pretty much ALL STILL failing to address the target audience. A 6 year old boy. 6 year olds simply will not understand what you are all talking about. And “how you explain marketing to a 6 year old” was the question. (I appreciate the question behind the question of course!) C’mon guys you are supposed to be in marketing which, when I last looked, was about the target market.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosalie.furness Rosalie Furness

    Marketing is about building trust with a potential consumer of your product so that when they are ready to buy (to solve a problem you know they have or will encounter) they already know that you have the resources/product to solve that problem, they trust you (you are at the top of their list) and you are waiting and ready to sell to them.

  • http://twitter.com/fretkillr Gary McCloud

    Marketing is when daddy can convince mommy who has a problem (headache), that he has the solution! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/marketingmarya Marya Sherwin

    I drove the girl I babysit home from daycare the other day and she asked what I do for work. How do I explain paid search media in a short and concise manner, let alone, in language they can understand? I ended up asking her if she was familiar with the advertisements that show before she watches a youtube video. She responded yes, so I said that my job is to help the brand show their advertisements across different websites like that. To her it probably made it sound like I actually am on the production team helping to shoot the video, but whatever–that’s all a part of marketing too! I could probably come up with a clever condensed definition, but that’s a real-life synopsis. The example of a commercial is the best depiction of marketing for that age anyway: “Selling you stuff or telling you about something you didn’t know before.”

Jon (@jonmiller) is a VP and co-founder at Marketo. He is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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