When you think of marketing, what sorts of ideas and images initially come to mind? Close your eyes and think about the essence of the word. What images flow in? The images will vary depending on your age, your professional background, and whether you have worked in some aspect of the marketing field. Here is a short list of perceptions commonly conjured up about marketing:

Catchy and entertaining advertisements—or perhaps the opposite, incessant and boring advertisements.

Pushy salespeople trying to persuade someone to buy it right now.

Incessant spam in your e-mail inbox and unwelcome solicitations on your smartphone.

Obtrusive tracking and recording of your every click and browsing activity online.

Famous brands and their celebrity spokespeople, such as Nike’s athlete endorsers.

Product claims that turn out to be overstated or just plain false, causing doubt about the trustworthiness of a company.

Marketing departments “own” an organization’s marketing initiative.

Marketing Misconceptions: What Marketing Is Not

MISCONCEPTION NO. 1: Marketing is all about advertising.

THE REALITY: Advertising is just one way that marketing is communicated to potential customers. Advertising is highly visible to the general public, so many people naturally think of advertising when they think of marketing. A famous axiom: Good advertising makes a bad product fail faster.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 2: Marketing is all about selling.

THE REALITY: The general public also experiences a lot of selling. Much of this day-to-day selling is in retail store environments. Selling, or more correctly “personal selling,” is simply another method of marketing communication. Marketers have to decide on a mix of marketing communication approaches that (in addition to advertising and personal selling) might also include public relations/publicity, sales promotion, and direct marketing.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 3: Marketing is all fluff and no substance.

THE REALITY: Yes, some aspects of marketing are inherently fun and glitzy. Hiring Kevin Durant as a celebrity spokesperson had to be a real thrill for everybody at Nike, not to mention the pleasure and fun it gave Nike fans. But marketing also has aspects that involve sophisticated research, detailed analysis, careful decision making, and thoughtful development of strategies and plans. For many organizations, marketing represents a major investment and firms are naturally reluctant to invest major resources without a reasonable level of assurance of a satisfactory payback.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 4: Marketing is inherently unethical and harmful to society.

THE REALITY: Marketing is no more inherently unethical than other business areas. The extreme corporate financial misdeeds that led to the Great Recession of the late 2000s show that to be true. However, when some element of marketing proves to be unethical (or even illegal), it tends to be visible to the general public. Untrue advertising claims, arm-twisting sales tactics, and nonenvironmentally friendly product packaging are a few very visible examples of marketing not behaving at its best.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 5: Only marketers market.

THE REALITY: Everybody does marketing. Everybody has a stake in the success of marketing. Regardless of your position in a firm or job title, learning how to do great marketing is a key professional asset. People with strong marketing skills achieve greater success—both on the job and off. If you’ve never thought of yourself in the context of being a “personal brand” that needs to be effectively communicated, just consider how useful such an approach could be in job seeking or positioning yourself for a promotion.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 6: Marketing is just another cost center in a firm.

THE REALITY: The mind-set that marketing is a cost, rather than an investment, is deadly in a firm because costs are inherently to be reduced or avoided. When management doesn’t view marketing as earning its keep—that is, marketing being able to pay back its investment over the long term—it becomes very easy for firms to suboptimize their success in the long run by avoiding investment in brand and product development in favor of cutting costs. This is the classic argument that successful firms must simultaneously monitor costs to ensure short-term financial performance while also investing in marketing to ensure long-term competitive strength.

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