Opinion: Marketers must fight charges of being gimmicky

The past few months have not been good for the marketing industry's reputation. From the more immediate debacle of Coca-Cola's Dasani to the long-running debate about the industry's role in damaging the nation's health, marketing has become everyone's favourite scapegoat.

The cataclysmic upheavals engulfing what has been seen as one of the most stable companies in the world, Shell, aren't helping.

Although the problems stem from something as basic as miscalculation of oil reserves, it is the perception that Shell has been too bureaucratic, aloof and uncommunicative that is really grabbing the headlines. And that's marketing, too.

The derision marketing attracts was on display again last week during Radio 4's Midweek programme, hosted by Libby Purves. One of her guests was Thom Braun, talking about his latest book The Philosophy of Branding: Great Philosophers Think Brands. The book examines what marketing professionals can learn about branding from some of the world's major philosophers, such as Socrates, Descartes and Wittgenstein.

Whatever your view of relating Plato to Persil, the fact that Braun is not only a director of Unilever's Global Marketing Academy, but also an ordained Church of England priest means that his ideas are at least worth considering.

But while the discussion about the book was civilised, the sneers were not too far from the surface. After all, it's only marketing. And who can take something seen as such a frivolous activity seriously? This is the mountain marketing has to climb. It's bad enough to be seen as simply add-on gimmickry by those outside the commercial world. With that attitude still far too prevalent in the business community, it really is time for marketers to start setting the record straight about just what they contribute to a company's performance.

It's not easy. As Roy Young points out in his new book Making Marketing Matter, all marketers are fighting one or more of ten widely held myths that prove marketing to be at best superficial and at worst a serious waste of money.These include: it's better to hire sales people to generate revenue than invest in marketing; marketing is only for creative types with unreliable skills and methods; marketing is qualitative, but business is quantitative; and marketing is what you do for a specific product, not as a strategy for the entire business.

His solution for overcoming these hurdles is three-pronged and not for the faint-hearted. In the first instance, you must prove you offer what no one else can: the ability to understand, attract and keep customers.

But just being excellent at building and maintaining the customer base will do you no favours unless it is recognised internally. So you must demonstrate marketing's relevance to the organisation as a generator of earnings in the short term and growth in the long term by making sure everyone understands the link between marketing and commercial success.

And proving that marketing works once isn't enough; you must constantly monitor trends and the potential impact of new opportunities.Approach the marketing of marketing as carefully as you would any product or service.

Because the only people who can help the industry earn the respect it deserves are marketers themselves.


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