There is a perception among chief executives that marketers are not up to the challenge. While recognised for their creativity, commitment, passion and energy, they are also perceived as inflexible, arrogant and lacking in the discipline and capabilities required to drive profitable growth.
This conclusion, which has emerged from a study of business leaders' attitudes toward marketing, is not an expansive slur on the discipline.
After all, perception and reality are two different things. What it shows, however, is that marketing has some way to go to prove its worth in the wider scheme of things.
In response to this, The Marketing Society has drawn up a manifesto to provide the industry with a blueprint for future prosperity. In doing so, the industry body undertook weighty research among those outside the marketing sector as well as those within it. A joint project in collaboration with TMS and management consultancy McKinsey delivered an insight into chief executives' views of marketing's role, which, as mentioned, produced less than encouraging results. The status of marketing was also discussed at length by those attending The Marketing Society's annual summit last year.
According to Hugh Burkitt, chief executive of The Marketing Society, the discussions held in the lead-up to the manifesto's publication revealed that while most businesses recognise the need for marketing, they also have reservations about its ability to affect top-line growth. 'The challenge facing marketing is to persuade finance-driven companies of its importance,' he says. 'Marketing's role is defined too much as marketing communications. There is a need for us to move into other critical areas of a business, such as product delivery. The word "marketing" is misused in businesses, so we need to unify as an industry to redefine its perception.'
The manifesto addresses the role of individual marketers and the marketing community. It contains templates for the role of the marketer in championing the customer, innovating the business and driving growth. In assuming this position, marketers will be required to be more accountable, collaborative and commercially minded. In short, the document highlights the steps to be taken if business leaders are to be persuaded to change their companies from ones that simply have a marketing department into organisations that are marketing led and customer oriented.
Peter Fisk, former chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and a member of the team that put the manifesto together, believes the response to marketing would be greater if it worked all the way across a business. 'Marketing has built a good foundation for businesses by focusing on the customer. The next step has to be to build this into all parts of the business,' he says. 'There aren't many companies that truly champion innovation to create standout and this is a central platform that marketing can create.'
The lack of faith shown in marketing at boardroom level is a legacy of the days of high spending and little accountability, according to Peter Bell, chief executive of Enterprise IG and a key player behind the manifesto. He believes the document can help energise the next generation of marketers to think in a broader way about the discipline's role.
The Marketing Society defines the discipline as 'the creation of customer-led demand, which is the only sustainable form of business growth'. The manifesto highlights this by arguing that marketing has an opportunity to drive the direction and performance of business as never before.
Marketers must realign themselves to the priorities of the business, according to the manifesto, to create exceptional value for customers and shareholders. It warns that if they do not change, there is a danger they will become increasingly isolated and irrelevant, while the business will look to other disciplines willing to accept the challenge and be accountable.
'Firms are announcing profit warnings and cutting costs yet still profess a desire to invest in their brands,' says Chris Ingram, chairman of The Ingram Partnership. 'The manifesto sets out what needs to be done at the heart of this investment, providing assistance for those that want it. This is important because the onus is on marketers to react to the manifesto and be interested in and understand other parts of their business.'
It is not surprising that while business cries out for marketing, many marketers feel they have lost influence, live in fear of cutbacks, and do not always attract the best talent. On average, senior marketers have a tenure of less than two years, half that of the chief executive, making it extremely difficult for them to have any clout within a company. Ingram admits it is easy for marketers to be cynical about the logisitics of implementing marketing across other parts of the business, but he maintains it is essential to building a brand.
The manifesto is a call to action. Burkitt's aim, outlined through action points to be undertaken by The Marketing Society, is to encourage the industry to react to the issues raised. 'It is vital that we get together if we are to improve performance. These discussions are not limited to those within marketing. We will be talking to other industry organisations to find out how to better communicate marketing's critical role,' he says.
Fisk concurs with Burkitt and adds that the manifesto is intended to be a living document filled with ideas to inspire marketers. 'It is important that marketers feel a part of the manifesto and it is not just viewed as an industry body blowing its own trumpet,' he says. 'The document now needs to be brought to life through practical forward movement.'
The manifesto challenges marketers to take personal responsibility for developing their profession and to think about how to agree meaningful metrics for marketing in their company so they can be held accountable for their efforts.
However worthy and accurate the manifesto may be, it could be rendered meaningless unless marketers join the debate.
The challenge for the industry over the coming months and years will be to put the theory into practice.
CHAMPIONING THE CUSTOMER
Nick Smith Director of marketing and strategy, British Gas
The manifesto represents a challenge. Marketers' most important role is to be customer champions. For many organisations, the difficulties of delivering a consistently excellent customer experience mean it is also a challenge for marketers. We need to use all our persuasive powers and collaborative skills to encourage the many departments involved in serving the customer to deliver a better experience, and do it at a profit.
Good communication is a two-way process and, as the voice of the customer in the business and the voice of the business to the customer, we have to listen carefully and wisely to both sides. Companies can create value through active listening and deliver sustainable profitable growth. We must also steward brands in customer experience and reputation to make them distinct. Whether or not you agree with the manifesto, it will cause people to reflect on what they should be doing. It also reminds us that, as marketers, we have a wider responsibility to try to get our organisations to understand and embrace the discipline.
INNOVATING THE BUSINESS
Alex Batchelor Vice-president global brand, Orange
I like new things; new people, new ideas, new brands. Successful marketing is about innovation and turning that brief fascination with the new into an enduring relationship. This is hard. For 500 years banking was done face to face, yet within just 50 years of phones becoming commonplace and five years after the appearance of the internet it takes place via these media. Not all innovation shifts are so significant. Which company understood its customers enough to realise that not all shoppers need a big trolley, but some struggle with a basket? Now there are as many as seven types of trolley at supermarkets. Did the person who thought of this create a significant and lasting advantage through the innovation?
Sadly not, but the person who decided to sell books online and deliver them to your door did. Marketing, like innovation, is a conundrum. It can be selling what people want, but it can also be about raising interest in what you have. In the meantime, customers are getting on with their lives; they are not changing much, but are fascinated by the new.
Maurice Doyle UK commercial director, Bacardi-Martini
Marketing's purpose is to generate profitable, sustainable business growth. At best, everything else is a means to achieving this; at worst, a valueless distraction. Sustainable growth can come only from the creation of customer-led demand. Brands are the basis of long-term shareholder value and our job is to develop them fully. There is a view that marketers are becoming peripheral to the pursuit of sustainable growth. So how can we improve this? First, we need to articulate what 'sustainable business growth' means. Financial acumen should not be the domain of the finance department - we should own this as part of the growth agenda. Second, we need to establish metrics to determine whether we are delivering against the growth agenda. Third, we need to implement our growth strategies. Growth relies on brilliant marketing, rather than brilliant strategies. Finally, we need to take our colleagues with us. Everyone wants to be associated with sustainable growth and we are to blame if they do not appreciate how marketing can help deliver this.
Syl Saller Director of global brand innovation group, Diageo
The debate on marketing's credibility in the boardroom rages on. The manifesto aims to address this by setting out plainly what we need to do to ensure we are influencing the strategic direction of the company.
Let's not spend time debating its nuances, the real issue comes in putting it into action. The best way for marketing to have credibility is to be seen as the 'engine of demand', rather than the 'defender of the spend'.
All our actions, from what we say in meetings to the way we focus, must demonstrate that we are commercial animals. We must be as keenly aware of the bottom-line implications of decisions as the finance department and in a more powerful position to influence it. Effective brand-building takes time, but there can be no long term without delivery in the short term. We must ask what our motivations are in terms of accountability.
Are we looking to make the next great ad? Or are we fiercely defending the work because we know it has the cut-through to make a difference to the bottom line? On the surface, our actions may look the same.
Amanda Mackenzie Vice-president marketing EMEA, Hewlett-Packard
Every week there is more written about business than I will ever have time to read. What I like about the manifesto is the fact that existing marketing know-how, from the intellectual to the practical, can be distilled into core competencies and actions to give us all a long overdue sense of professional pride. One of these is external collaboration. This is at the heart of achieving best practice in marketing and operational excellence. Whether it is within the various functions of the companies for which we work, or across different companies, innovative solutions can be found and effectiveness achieved quicker by collaborating.
It is a commercially competitive thing to do and far more satisfying than going solo. Having enduring, unswerving and championing support around you will be the difference between success and failure. Collaborating inherently forms coalitions, which will increase the the chances of success yet further. The result will help to create customer-led demand faster and better - as well as achieving sustainable business growth.
Mark Sherrington Group marketing director, SABMiller
There is a need for a more commercial and inspiring definition of marketing.
The existing ones are too focused on process; talking about what marketers do, not why. Marketing must realign itself to commercial goals. Every other function talks of what it does for the enterprise, while marketing talks of being the voice of the consumer, giving the impression that communication is the end result. Often, it is also uncommercial. The manifesto uses phrases such as 'consumer-led demand' and 'sustainable growth'. This is more like it, making marketing responsible for top-line growth. It is not just a mantra - the emphasis is on the practicalities of how it becomes more commercial. The manifesto talks of better connections to business goals and other functions, the importance of measurement, and learning the language of cash flows. Consumers, as a source of insight, are overdone. Marketing's unique contribution is to have and sell ideas; commercial, growth-creating ones that are good and fresh. Not the kind that come just by listening to consumers.
THE SEVEN IMPERATIVES FOR INDIVIDUAL MARKETERS
1. Widen role: marketers must seek and embrace the roles of customer champion, business innovator and growth driver.
2. Deliver results: marketers must voluntarily take ownership for the profitable growth of their business.
3. Get connected: marketers must influence and support colleagues in other functions to innovate and deliver the brand promise.
4. Provide insight: marketers must develop and openly share customer and market information, articulating insights and ideas.
5. Develop yourself: marketers must develop their strategic, innovative and commercial skills and knowledge.
6. Be creative: marketers must continue to bring big ideas and executional flair to brand activation and innovation.
7. Market brilliantly: from category and portfolio strategy, through consumer understanding to brand equity development.
THE SEVEN IMPERATIVES FOR THE MARKETING COMMUNITY
1. Define agendas: marketing will interpret, share and address the key issues of business leaders.
2. Measure success: marketing will develop a coherent framework for measurement and reporting.
3. Collaborate externally: marketing will work more closely with other professions such as HR, finance and purchasing.
4. Take responsibility: marketing will address key issues regarding ethics, society and the environment.
5. Improve capabilities: marketing will provide comprehensive professional standards and development roadmaps.
6. Create networks: marketing's professional bodies will work better together to support all marketers.
7. Champion marketing: marketing will engage employees.
WHAT NEXT ...
Proposed actions for The Marketing Society
- Provide full details of TMS/McKinsey CEO survey and summaries of other reports online.
- Work with other bodies on customer-based metrics.
- Develop a professional code of ethics for members of all professional bodies.
- Extend existing standard frameworks to embrace business and people skills.
- Formalise a virtual network of professional bodies and hold quarterly meetings, using the Marketing Council as a forum.
- Better engage with international best practice through other national industry bodies.
These are just some of the manifesto initiatives to be undertaken by The Marketing Society in the coming months. To find out more about these projects and to see a full copy of the manifesto, visit The Marketing Society website at www.marketing-society.org.uk.