What role does marketing play in our society today?

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Marketer Milk Team

If you're asking what role does marketing play in our society, you came to the right place. Here's the top 7 important roles marketing plays today.

What role does marketing play in our society today?

In a world without marketing, businesses would have no idea what their customers want, and customers would have no idea what companies carry the products they need.

Even if you don't realize it, marketing plays an important role of your life. After all, without marketing, consumers like you and I would never know which products or services can serve our needs best.

Since our childhood, we've been absolutely crushed with advertisement after advertisement, so much so that we don't even give the tsunami of subtle messages a second thought. Instead, it's second nature to consume massive amounts of information and choose which items we need to buy or "miss out."

On the one hand, you can't turn anywhere without coming across an ad on social media, streaming services, or those new, fancy LED billboards along the highway. On the other, you may not know that every interaction you have with an ad or clickable link gets tracked whether or not you’re aware.

For the paranoid demographic that may feel a little too close to Big Brother surveillance, but to the rest of us, marketing messages are part and parcel of being an informed, savvy shopper — a genuine American keeping our economic engine roaring with consumer spending.

Bluntly stated, the role of marketing is inseparable from our consumer-driven culture in the western world. We swim through it as a dolphin swims along the shoreline; neither of us gives it a second thought until we run aground.

No one can get away from receiving marketing messages no more than they can get away from hearing their nosey neighbor recommend a new riding lawn mower because yours sounds like a rusty chainsaw.

So, how did we get to this point, specifically in the US?

The importance of marketing: What role does it play in our society?

Person in the middle of Time Square in New York City

If someone tells you that they pay no attention to marketing messages, the first thing you do is look them straight in the eye, smile brightly, and try not to laugh at them because it's rude to laugh in someone's face when they're serious.

Marketing messages "work" on anyone who makes a purchasing decision. Indeed, in a world without marketing strategies, businesses would have no idea about consumer needs, and customers would have no idea what companies carry the products they need.

If you think that's all a bunch of malarkey, that's fine; most people do!

Still, to back up our point, we’ve come up with seven roles that marketing plays in our society, including:

  • Boosting economic growth
  • Analyzing consumer behavior
  • Creating new products in the market
  • Meeting consumer expectations and needs
  • Enhancing the quality of life for customers
  • Giving companies social responsibilities
  • Informing and educating consumers

Those are the top seven roles of modern digital marketing if you keep things simple and don't walk too deep in the forest, trailing off about targeted buyer personas and your killer CTR stats no one will ever believe.

We promise that the bottom line is more down-to-earth than you'd expect.

7 vital roles of marketing in our society

That said, here's a breakdown of the seven vital roles that marketing plays in our society today.

1. Boosting economic growth

When it comes to discussing the theoretical aspects of marketing, it tends to overanalyze them to the point where any takeaways sound hollow and meaningless.

The simplest definition of marketing is that it's the culmination of every single activity and wild machination a business goes through to create a customer. Drawing them in with jiggling ads is only part of the equation.

Cliche alert! You can lead a donkey to water, but you can’t make him drink, especially if he’s a donkey, yes? Attracting people to your business is only the first wobbly baby step, not the end game of marketing.

You can advertise anything, yet that doesn't mean a consumer will keep returning time and again or recommend a product to someone else. You have to give modern consumers some sort of incentive to buy from your business again, and that doesn't mean you need to offer discounts all the time.

It means that you need to offer consumers something that they perceive as valuable, a value-added experience.

This very interplay is one of the major drivers of our overall economic growth in the US. Marketing allows us to refine products and services to grow the business constantly.

Grow the business; read that again, please! Marketing is everything you do to grow a business, and you do that by serving customer expectations.

2. Analyzing consumer behavior

Okay, hopefully, we've convinced you by now that marketing is a major part of our economic growth. Still, how do you tell if marketing is working correctly or even worth the trouble?

The answer is to look at the numbers and try to identify patterns of behaviors that relate to a consumer’s purchasing decisions. It's very tempting to collect mountains of data on all consumers, but it's a fool's errand, even if a company has big data analytic capabilities.

Sometimes, the most detailed insights lead to significant gains in marketing that propagate changes throughout our consumer-driven society.

For example, does anyone even remember what shopping online was like before Amazon came out like gangbusters? The answer is probably no, but why?

Big tech companies like Amazon have already refined their messaging and services to become the dominant force in the American retail industry. Today, it's actually more convenient to buy something online than visit the store in person, even if it is a corporate chain like Wal-Mart.

We'd all like to think that our consumer behaviors are ours and ours alone, but that belies marketing's influence on society at large.

Ultimately, marketing anticipates ways our society is changing, and occasionally, that goes beyond the boundaries of economics and consumerism.

3. Creating new products in the market

Think of this article as a kind of recipe for modern marketing. So far, we've discussed marketing's influence on the economy and consumer behavior.

The next ingredient is creating new products and bringing them to market, which requires analyzing consumer behavior in the context of the greater economy.

But there are many ways to bring a product to market, and the truth is this: you don't necessarily have to listen to what people want to sell them a product that they'll love.

That may seem counterintuitive, yet that's precisely the way that Henry Ford and Steve Jobs described the way that they introduced society-altering technologies.

The quote from Henry Ford is something to the effect of, “people would have told me to make them a faster horse if I asked them what they wanted.” Steve Jobs essentially said the same thing when asked about why Apple designed smartphones the way it did.

Marketing can find the shaded nooks and crannies of our purchasing behaviors and develop products and services that fit perfectly into those spaces.

Marketing does, in fact, give us a way to deliver new products to the market, but it also helps the creators of those products refine them to the point where they echo throughout generations.

How silly would we all look right now if Henry Ford really did make his business all about manufacturing better horseshoes to get more mileage out of horse-drawn taxis?

4. Meeting (and exceeding) consumer expectations and needs

Along those lines, marketing helps businesses meet and exceed consumers’ expectations and needs. The technical term is differentiation, yet most consumers don't realize they're doing it — but marketers do!

If you're not buying the Henry Ford/Steve Jobs school of product marketing, then marketing is specifically about satisfying consumer expectations and demands.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, let's say that you make a product and never advertise it. No matter how great it is, no matter how much passion and dedication you put into making it, no one's going to buy it if people don't even know it's available for purchase.

On the flip side, let's say you make a product that breaks after two or three uses, but you blast out advertisements and make a fantastic website to attract customers. Someone might buy from you and then turn around and tell their friends not to buy it because the product isn't worth the money — terrible for customer retention.

Either way, you’ve missed the entire point of marketing by not communicating well with your target market.

Good marketing is about finding the right balance between promotion and product, and that dynamic is what leads to a thriving business at the end of the day.

5. Enhance the quality of life for customers

Up to this point, we talked about the economic and material benefits that marketing efforts bring to society. After all, marketing is inseparable from the cold face of Capitalism.

But sometimes, marketing can do more for society; it can bolster society and enhance the standard of living for all.

That may sound a little far-fetched to those who don't even believe marketing works, yet that's the reality.

Previously we used the example of Amazon, and the choice wasn’t an accident because we wanted to make this point.

Ask yourself this question: what would the retail industry look like after the COVID-19 pandemic if online shopping wasn't as safe and easy as it is today? Finding toilet paper and hand sanitizer would be the least of everyone's worries!

Likewise, if Steve Jobs and Henry Ford didn't simplify their products and streamline their manufacture at scale, everyone would be using flip phones and own a speedy horse instead.

6. Giving companies social responsibilities

Moving along, the next role marketing plays in our society is that it gives companies an avenue to promote social responsibility. Not too long ago, the idea that small businesses could influence cultural and societal issues what's anathema, just completely crazy and flying out of left field.

But then, 2020 happened.

Sign that says "more equality more love"

That's the moment when brands realized that consumers’ purchasing behaviors have changed, and they're not going back to the way they were before the pandemic — ever.

Marketing does not make the waves that influence cultural and societal change; instead, it rides them. It goes with the flow of the times, and right now, that time is leaning heavily into the concept of social responsibility.

In a bygone era, businesses went through great pains to stay out of the cultural issues that dominated the 20th century. Do you think McDonald's would have become the global powerhouse it is today if it had directly promoted the Civil Rights Movement?

Not many historians would say yes because, during that time, the social upheaval around the country was palatable. Fast forward to the turn of the millennium, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and now, a global viral pandemic.

We see today changes at the societal level that we haven't seen in more than a generation, perhaps even before the Civil War.

The compounding crises that we keep jumping to year after year have real consequences, and one of those is how businesses promote the values they believe in to make a genuine connection with consumers.

7. Informing and educating consumers

Along those lines, informing and educating consumers is absolutely about making a genuine connection. That's where marketing is in our society right now.

There's a significant opportunity to take a socially responsible stance on a variety of cultural issues to build a real, almost visceral connection with the consumers you want to attract.

It's not about politics; it's not about culture wars, and it's not about 2-for-1 discounts.

It’s about authenticity more than anything. Consumers want to get to the root of what a company’s values truly are, especially millennials who won’t even consider a brand that they feel runs counter to their values.

Marketing enhances societal movements too

As you can see, marketing is far from detrimental to our society; rather, it bolsters our culture and keeps us bonded and strong.

At the time of this writing, there's a fundamental shift towards corporate social responsibility. It'll be interesting to see where the trend goes in the next few years, but what we do know is this: the upheaval isn’t going away.

And it may be just getting started.

Ultimately, marketing is the fuel that’s driving societal change. We’re the ones in the passenger seat along for the ride.