A formal business discipline that originated in the USA. It was first taught as a separate business subject at the turn of the 20th century in several Midwestern universities. As a business discipline, it is seen to have passed through three phases: the era of production in which marketing was constrained only by limitation on production (up to the 1930s); the era of sales in which the marketing pushed whatever the company produced (up to the 1950s); and the era of the customer in which the customer was placed at the centre of all marketing activities. In the 21st century marketing is entering the interactive age.
The fundamental change in the definition and purpose of marketing in the 21st century is that, as a business discipline, it has developed far beyond the simple facilitation of commercial exchanges and transactions between the producer and the consumers. Initially, marketing was very much focused on the producer's interest—of getting the right products to the customer at the right time, at the right price, and in the right place. The underlying assumption of early marketers was that the producers controlled the market. Management, functions, roles, and processes aligned around this model of producer-centric marketing management. This is no longer a valid assumption in the Information Age of the 21st century.
So what is marketing in the early 21st century? A successful or accepted new model, one that takes account of the dynamism (and often irrationality) of global markets, capricious and unpredictable customers that defy classic analysis, purchasing patterns, and market forecasts, the rise of services and intangibles, the fragmentation and new combinations of markets beyond the old industrial classifications, the increasing power of customers, and the new tools and techniques of interactive marketing, has not yet come into being on a grand scale or started to translate into company marketing organizations and processes.
There are so many definitions and all-encompassing ‘definitive’ pronouncements about what marketing is (I counted at least 50 in compiling this dictionary) that it would be valueless to add yet another to the academic pile. It is, however, worth drawing attention to the different interpretations of the practice of marketing and the functions and skills that actually constitute it. In the 21st century markets have become more complex and more global, and so has marketing as a professional discipline. As a newer profession it lacks universal clarity, classification, and delineation of role. Different companies and organizations tend to define marketing after their own fashion.
Some companies continue to confuse marketing with selling; some even see marketing as a subset of sales. Others, more correctly, see selling as a subset of marketing. There are a few, more practically, who see selling and marketing as separate management disciplines. In some countries, such as the US, there is a tendency to separate marketing and communications professionals: public relations, speechwriting, and internal communications are often separated out from marketing, which is more focused on taking products and services direct to customers. Other companies adopt an integrated approach in which all communications, sales, and direct and indirect marketing are managed holistically.