Marketing: What Is It, and Why Do You Need It?

Let's face it, marketing can be confusing. And the lines between marketing, advertising, and public relations have become more blurry since the debut of social media. So, if you don't have anyone on staff dedicated to managing your business communications, you may be feeling a little lost, or just claiming ignorance as bliss.

However, marketing isn't just a buzzword. It's a non-negotiable piece of your business, whether for- or non-profit, and definitely not something you can neglect if you want to grow.

So, during the month of May, I'll be covering a lot of marketing basics to get you caught up. Think of it as Marketing 101, without the tuition fees.

Marketing: What is it, and why do you need it?

Last week, I started with marketing trends and strategies. But now, I'd like to discuss marketing at it's most foundational level.

What is it?

To put it simply, marketing is the process that creates a relationship between creator and consumer. It doesn't matter if you're talking about products or services. And it doesn't matter if you're a for- or non-profit.

Marketing includes the creation, promotion, selling, and distribution of "your thing," whatever that may be. So, in reality, you've already been marketing in some format, whether you were aware of it or not.

But now is the time to start thinking of doing it more effectively.

Why do I need it?

Well, hopefully you have a better understanding of "why," now that you've clarified the "what."

Marketing is how you decide what you're going to offer, find your audience, tell them about your offer, and turn them into fans/customers/donors. So, really, you can't have a business with it. Period.

Knowingly or unknowingly, you've used marketing to determine the service or product you've created, how much it will cost, who it will benefit, how to talk to perspective buyers/donors, and where you'll talk to them. It also includes any follow-up and evaluation of customer satisfaction so that your donors/buyers stick around.

See, look at that—you're a marketer! You just didn't know it.

What we need to do now, though, is move you to a more intentional marketing strategy. If you've been sort of haphazardly communicated with your audience and getting mediocre results, now's the time to make a change.

Your service or product doesn't do you any good if there's no one around on the receiving end, no matter how wonderful it may be. You need to make a living, and you need to promote your cause—which means you need a plan to make those things happen.

The great news is that you don't have to have someone dedicated full-time to figuring this out. Sure, it would be nice, but I know that's not always an option. Maybe you can outsource or delegate it, but again, I realize this can be limiting at times.

How do I start—or move forward?

This may be the area you're stuck in. Perhaps you have some general knowledge of the "what" and "why," but you feel like your "how" could use some work.

The best place to begin is retrace your steps. Set aside some time, whether you can take a full day or need to spread out some chunks of time over a month, to reevaluate what you're currently doing, and make improvements. Block it off on your calendar to make it a priority. After all, if you've got foundational problems, it's not a good idea to build your house on shaky ground.


  • Yep, go all the way back to the beginning. Think about whatever it is that you're offering, and take another look. In all of these steps, if your business has been around for a while, you may need to make some changes. You may not be in the same place that you started.
  • Does the product/service still make sense for where you are now?
  • Is the description accurate, or does it need to be clarified further?
  • Does the price need to change?
  • If you're trying to get donations, do you have multiple ways to make that happen? If your audience is young, maybe you need a text option. If they're "mature," maybe you need to add a mailing address.
  • Are these things prominent and easy-to-find on your website? Choose clarity over brevity.


  • Are you reaching the people that you desire to connect with?
  • If yes, maybe you just need to find more of them. We'll get to that below.
  • If no, you've got bigger issues to work through. Return to the first step and find the disconnect. 

Promotion Channels:

  • Think about where your audience hangs out, either online or in-person.
  • Which social media should you consider utilizing? This is partially based on your preferences, but largely based on your audience. If you love Twitter to death, but no one in your audience is there, that's 140 well-crafted characters down the drain.
  • Are there any conferences or events for you to connect with them? Again, these could be online or in-person. (And when you can't afford to attend a conference, consider volunteering to attend for free.)
  • Gasp—should you consider print, radio, or direct mail? They aren't dead yet, and for the right service or product, they're still a great option.


  • How are you going use the promotional channels to talk to your audience about your offer?
  • Social media is largely free, but sometimes you may need to invest in some social ads as well. Try it with a small amount of money and then evaluate. Note that right now, Facebook is giving more favor to posts with images and Facebook Live.
  • Consider guest posting on blogs, or asking to be a guest on podcasts to increase your overall brand awareness. And when possible, provide a discount or link to your opt-in to get them on your own email list.
  • Even us introverts have to be aware that events are "game on" for making new connections. Whether you're attending for business or pleasure, be prepared to talk about your organization, cause, and offer. In-person opportunities can especially have long-term benefits.
  • Obviously, items like print, direct mail, or even radio cost a lot more than the other options. You'll need to really consider if this is something that would benefit you or not. There are times when it's certainly the right move.


  • Once you've received a donation or made a sell, what happens? You need to keep this new fan engaged with your cause. You'll want them to make a deeper connection with your organization, whether that is another donation, more sales, or something like volunteering.
  • Regular emails and social media posts are one way to keep interested parties informed about your organization. Do you have a way to tell him/her about the best way to keep up with you? Don't assume people will excitedly read every word on your website, and automatically subscribe to your email or social media. Provide clear direction. 
  • Other ideas may include hand-written letters, direct emails, or in-person meet-ups. There isn't one right way to connect with your audience and extend a relationship. You'll have to put in the time to figure out what resonates most with your folks. 

I shared this as a tip on social media yesterday, but a really great way to evaluate your marketing is to get another perspective. We all know our subject matter so well, stare at our sites so long, and write the content ourselves. So, of course, it make perfect sense to us! Unfortunately, that may not be the case for the world at large.

Find someone who has some familiarity with your organization, but isn't a staffer or insider with extreme knowledge, and ask them to read your website or marketing materials. Then have that person tell you what they thought you were trying to communicate, sell, offer, etc. Does it line up with your goals? If not, make any necessary changes for alignment. And don't forget to buy them coffee or lunch in exchange for their time!

Surveys are another great opportunity to evaluate your efforts. I love surveys! It's easy to assume what people are thinking, but do the hard work of asking them. Your email list (and/or social media peeps) is an invaluable source for feedback. Just be sure to keep it short and to the point. You can even offer a reward or coupon for participating to encourage more responses.

After you have a good handle on all of these things, you can begin to move forward and build on what you already have in place. It's time to look at where you can increase your budget or efforts for a greater impact.

Look at you—you're practically a marketing pro now! Let me know how it goes!

Are you already overwhelmed with all the things on your plate that you can't imagine taking the time to evaluate your marketing? Start with my free e-course on the "5 Things To Stop Doing This Week" to jumpstart your marketing and communications. You'll be able to free up your time and energy so that you can prioritize your marketing. 

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein


Marketing isn't just a buzzword. It's a non-negotiable piece of your business.

Kristi Porter, founder at

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.