The public perception of marketers is poor. If random people were asked to describe the characteristics of a marketer they might use words like manipulative, greedy, materialistic, egotistical, unethical, and evil. It hasn't helped that one of the most popular shows of the past few years is about the egotistical, demanding, and slick talking advertising man, Don Draper. According to a recent Gallop Poll, only 11% of people rated the honesty and ethical standards of advertising practitioners as very high or high. The only two professions that were lower were members of congress and car salespeople.
In a recent online workshop taught by Josh Kaufman for the site CreativeLive, he pointed out that marketers can not force people to buy things that they don't want. He went on to say that one of the fastest ways to lose a million dollars is to try to advertise a product on television that people don't want.
To borrow an idea from a great commencement speech by Harvard Professor Deepak Malhotra, the role of marketers is to create value.
Peter Drucker famously said: "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two -- and only two -- basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business."
Marketers conduct customer research to find out what problems people have or what people want and then they work with designers and engineers to create products that make people's lives better. Marketers help consumers find out about great products by getting the word out to people who have a matching need or want. Marketers also create intangible value for a product through brands that results in real value for customers. An Omega watch (the top choice of international super spy James Bond) provides significantly more value than a generic brand watch made of the same material, although it doesn't tell time any better.
Marketing provides some negative consequences like pollution and waste, however it also create tons of value for society. So instead of thinking of marketers as mass manipulators, maybe a better description is that marketers are mass value creators.