Here's the traditional understanding of what "marketing" is:

"Marketing is the art of capturing your target market's attention so that you can move them through a series of steps—a funnel—specifically designed to generate a transaction."

In other words, most marketing starts from a place of "how do we find some total strangers and convince them to buy something as quickly as possible?"

When I was learning how to build a business, this is the approach to marketing I bought into. It always felt a bit off to me. But when that's the norm in your culture, it's easy to rationalize away negative feelings.

But for the past year, I've been completely disconnected from the online business world, and surprise surprise, that approach to marketing just doesn't vibe with me anymore. That's not how I want to be treated by companies or creators I encounter, and it's not how I want to treat the people who encounter me.

So lately, I've been tinkering with a new definition of marketing based on how I want to show up. Here's my latest swing at it.

Marketing is the art of creating, nurturing, and sustaining positive sum relationships. Those relationships are the foundation on which businesses can thrive, ideas can spread, and cultures can change.

That's it. Marketing is about finding the others—those people you genuinely care about serving—and fostering long-term relationships with them, both individually and at scale.

Everything we want—from revenue to influence to impact—is downstream of relationships. Without the bonds of trust and reciprocity that hold relationships together, we end up resorting to coercion and manipulation to get what we want. But when those bonds of relationship are strong, things like selling and persuading often take care of themselves. It's a bit like magic.

The other thing you might notice about this definition is that it's not exclusive to building a business. If you care about spreading ideas, changing cultures, and generally being a positive force in the world, marketing like this is an essential skill. It's how you build community, consensus, and momentum. It's how you create bottom up change, instead of forcing it from the top down.

So yeah, hope you dig this definition. It's the one I'm working from as I build the Ungated universe into something I'm proud of, and try to create a bit of cultural change along the way.

If you're a member of the Ungated Collective community (which is totally free, btw), you can always jump directly into the discussion for this article by clicking this magic link.