Let's begin with the single sentence promised in the headline, and then I will explain:

1. Why it is true, and

2. How I came to this conclusion.

Here's the sentence:

Marketing, reduced to its absolute basics, is remarkably simple: You figure out whom you want to sell to, and then you determine how you are going to get them to buy.

That's it. Those 31 words are all you need to know.

Yes, of course, you can make it more complicated.

And yes, too, figuring out whom you want to sell to can take months to determine, and the techniques you are going to use to persuade them to buy can--and should--require extensive testing and can be complicated as well.

But what you are trying to do is not.

So, how did I come to this conclusion?

Necessity.

I was exactly 30 years old when the nice people at BusinessWeek came to a conclusion that they were extremely proud of. They were going to make me--someone who didn't know a single thing about marketing--in charge of all the marketing coverage in the magazine.

They were pleasant about it. They gave me a week to prepare, and after patting me on the back on the way out of my office said, "Oh, by the way, during your first hour of work, send out a note to every editor and reporter at the magazine and tell them what you are going to be doing as marketing editor, and explain what you need from them."

During the next 168 hours--I don't remember sleeping much--I talked to everyone on the planet who seemed to have a handle on this marketing thing. Professors, of course. But also consultants, chief marketing officers, and mom-and-pops that seemed to be doing a good job at it.

I even surveyed consumers and customers (well, my friends actually) to see what they liked and what sort of things got them to buy, both when they were at the mall or supermarket and making purchases on behalf of their companies.

I asked tons of questions and took about 150 pages of notes. And when I distilled it down, it came out as the sentence you read at the top of this post: Marketing, reduced to its absolute basics, is remarkably simple: You figure out whom you want to sell to, and then you determine how you are going to get them to buy.

I then went back to just about everyone I talked to and said, in essence, "Does this sound right to you?"

Just about everyone said yes. (There were a couple of professors who liked their definitions better, but they conceded if that sentence was what I took away from their Marketing 101 course, they would be pretty happy. That was good enough for me.)

So, the next time you face a marketing challenge, try this. Go back to our definition, and see if it helps simplify things.

I am pretty sure it will.

We all have a tendency to overcomplicate things, especially when we are faced with a complicated (marketing) challenge.

Going back to basics always helps.

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