The problem with marketing

Is marketing as a function or profession in crisis? According to a UK survey carried out by The Marketing Society and McKinsey, it is.

The Financial Times reports on the survey and on the negative views of marketing held in many boardrooms:

Not everyone will care if marketing is in trouble. However, since successful marketing is one of the few ways to grow businesses without risky acquisitions, CEOs generally will. Since brand assessments often now drive City valuations, investors increasingly do. And since marketing pays for our biggest commercial television and radio services, subsidises our press, and is frequently seen as adding value to media consumption overall, consumers should.

A sense of marketing in crisis is not consistently felt across the sector, or even within larger, individual businesses. But there is a general feeling that the function has emerged from the dotcom bubble and the media downturn in this decade with less boardroom power and fewer, high-flying practitioners.

[…] The paradox is that while clouds may hang over the reputation of marketers, all the study’s respondents found that growing top-line revenues is a clear priority. And whether it is by launching new brands or spin-offs, advertising more effectively or better understanding what customers want, marketing has always had a strong claim to be able to grow top-line revenues.

Financial Times | People! There’s a problem with the marketing (Subscription required)

And, thanks to renaissance chambara (via Spin Bunny), here’s a concise summary of what the whole survey basically says:

  • Marketers are seen as creative but undisciplined
  • In marketing-led businesses (such as fast-moving consumer goods), marketing is too important to be left to the marketers
  • Marketing attracts the wrong kind of people
  • Marketers are undisciplined
  • Marketers are not interested in the P&L

7 thoughts on “The problem with marketing

  1. I have not read the article, but already I’m wondering how they define “marketing”? Sounds to me like they mean “promotion” — which, to the inexact, loosely means “advertising”.
    If I substitute “advertising agencies” and “advertising” for “marketers” and “marketing”, then my nearly 20 years of experience says “Well, duh!”
    But if the authors truly mean “marketing”…. finding a product that a consumer wants, at a price that gives value to seller and buyer, at a place that enhances value, communicated through promotion that efficiently explains the product… then the indictment is interesting, indeed.
    One thing comes to mind right away: I was always taught that the CEO is, ipso facto, the chief marketing officer of any company. Are the survey-takers saying, in effect, “We don’t know our own business”?

  2. Allan, I’m emailing you the FT article.
    Re the CEO being the CMO as well, that’s a similar argument to that of he/her also being the ‘Chief Communication officer.’ Has that argument ever succeeded?

  3. It sounds similar, but it’s far different — a CEO without a gut feel for marketing (and I mean in the classic Drucker, Porter, Kotler sense) is probably not growing the business. All the great entrepreneurs have been “marketing” people: product, price, place and promotion coming together in an elegant, efficient way.
    That’s not to say that you don’t need more: a gut feel for finance and, in manufacturing, production are critical. But communication skills are, like HR skills, not critical — important, but the CEO does not need to have those skills.
    I’ve always been amused at IABC gatherings where the line “The CEO should be the CCO!” goes up… my response has always been “If he was, why would you need a ‘place at the table'”?
    Don’t get me wrong: commmunication IS critical. But it’s not a critical skill for a CEO. He or she just needs to be better-than-average at it, and hire excellent communicators to support.

  4. Amazingly I was going to start a “Confessions of a Marketer’s Existential Crisis” series. I’m feeling out of sorts about what I really think about marketing of late.
    I’d love to see what ‘wrong’ kind of people marketing attracts 😉 Any chance you could email me the article as well?
    Allan, I wholeheartedly agree that the best CEOs have marketing insight as well. It does sometimes make the CMO’s job trickier though.

  5. Evelyn, please do start it! Email of article on the way.
    We three agree that the best CEOs have marketing insight. I couldn’t agree, though, Allan, that communication skills aren’t important for a CEO – I think they are critical skills.
    Like marketing, that doesn’t mean the CEO does the formal job. But effective communication skills are a prerequisite for an effective CEO, in my view.
    How many CEOs do you know who are simply poor communicators? I know a few. You could argue that as they might run successful businesses, it doesn’t matter. (Interestingly, I also know CEOs who have finance or manufacturing backgrounds, with little marketing knowledge – or even interest in marketing.)
    Well, I think it does matter. It makes the communicator’s job a whole lot easier (= effective) if he or she is in sync, conceptually and intellectually, with the leader.

  6. No, I said that communication skills *are* important for a CEO to have, and that he/she should be better-than-average at communication. I said communication skills are not “critical” for the CEO role.
    Ideally, you want a CEO to be at least fair in everything, good in many areas, and excellent in several. But some skills are more important than others. One would like a general who understands logistics, but you must have one who understands tactics.
    In business, I would rather work for a superb marketer with fair communication skills, than a superb communicator with fair marketing skills.
    But, hey… I’m self-employed.

  7. Thanks, Allan. But I do believe communications skills *are* critical attributes for a CEO, not just important ones.
    But in the real world, that’s why organizations have communicators… and marketers. The trouble is, according to the FT’s article, too many of those people are either not very good (as per boardroom perceptions) or the wrong people in the first place, or both.
    You could apply this thinking to just about any job function, IMO.

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