What makes the existence of any organization possible is that there are a significant number of people who need the product or service offered by that organization. As soon as that group becomes too small, or the need no longer exists, or some other organization can satisfy that need better, the organization will be eliminated. That is the way of a free economy. Thus, a politician does not get re-elected, an inner-city church closes its doors, the money needed to cure AIDS is not allocated, and the Colorado's Vail Ski Resort in the US files for bankruptcy.
In the case of business organizations, and marketing organizations in particular, the people with the needs are called consumers or customers. In marketing, the act of obtaining a desired object from someone by offering something of value in return is called the exchange process. Moreover, the exchange between the person with the need (who gives money or some other personal resource) and the organization selling this need-satisfying thing (a product, service, or idea) is inherently economic, and is called a transaction. There tends to be some negotiation between the parties. Individuals on both sides attempt to maximize rewards and minimize costs in their transactions so as to obtain the most profitable outcomes. Ideally, all parties achieve a satisfactory level of reward.
In each transaction, there is an underlying philosophy in respect to how the parties perceive the exchange. Sometimes deception and lying permeate the exchange. Other exchanges may be characterized as equitable, where each party receives about the same as the other—the customer's need is satisfied and the business makes a reasonable profit. With the emergence of the Internet and e-commerce during the 1990s, the nature of the exchange for many businesses and customers has changed dramatically. Today's consumers have access to far more and far better information. They also have many more choices. Businesses must provide a similar level of information and must deal with new competitors that are quicker, smarter, and open 24 hours a day.
An organization that employs marketing correctly knows that keeping customers informed is easier if they keep in constant contact with the customer. This does not necessarily mean that they write and call regularly, although it could. Rather, it more likely means that a marketing organization knows a great deal about the characteristics, values, interests, and behaviors of its customers, and monitors how these factors change over time. Although the process is not an exact science, there is sufficient evidence that marketers who do this well tend to succeed.
When this attempt to know as much about the consumer as possible is coupled with a decision to base all marketing on this information, it is said that the organization is consumer oriented or has adopted the marketing concept. It means working back from the customers' needs, rather than forward from the factory's capabilities.
Both historically and currently, many businesses do not follow the marketing concept. Companies such as Texas Instruments and Otis Elevator followed what has been labeled a production orientation, where the focus is on technology, innovation, and low production costs. Such companies assume that a technically superior or less expensive product sells itself. There are also companies, such as Amway, where sales and marketing are essentially the same thing. This sales orientation assumes that a good salesperson has the capability to sell anything. Often, this focus on the selling process may ignore the consumer or view the consumer as someone to be manipulated. Insightful businesses acknowledge the importance of production and sales, but realize that a three-step process is most effective: (1) continuously collect information about customers' needs and competitors' capabilities; (2) share the information across departments; and (3) use the information to create a competitive advantage by increasing value for customers. This is true marketing.