MARKETING FOCUS: The fairest of them all? - What do marketers think of their industry? An air of confidence masks fears for the future, writes James Curtis

The marketing profession is having a mid-life crisis, wrestling with changing circumstances, conflicting demands for its attention and nagging doubts about its worth and future.

The marketing profession is having a mid-life crisis, wrestling

with changing circumstances, conflicting demands for its attention and

nagging doubts about its worth and future.

Marketers lucky enough to be working on star brands for visionary

companies may not have detected this feeling of queasy uncertainty yet,

but the mood is definitely there at all levels of management.

Young marketers feel they lack support and guidance, middle managers

don’t know where to turn next and the old guard is complaining that

marketing isn’t what it used to be.

Furthermore, consumers have little respect for the marketing profession,

which can only make people in the industry feel more insecure about

their status at work and in the business world.

The problem is not so much with the people, who are better qualified and

more ambitious than ever. Despite the gloomy outlook, the majority of

marketers are fairly optimistic about the future of their profession

(see panel). The trouble is with the marketing function itself.

There are fears that marketing’s position as a stand-alone operation

steering corporate strategy and contributing to long-term profitability

is being threatened. The function is in danger of becoming marginalised

as companies switch emphasis from focusing on the brand to delivering

total customer satisfaction.

As a result, it is no longer just marketing managing the interface with

the customer; all other departments, from finance to production, are now


Realising that customer service translates onto the balance sheet, many

companies appear to have decided that marketing is too important to be

left to the marketing department. The chief executive officer, finance

chiefs and information technology directors all want a piece of the


These are not sentiments picked out of thin air. They are conclusions

from a major new survey conducted by the Marketing Society. The study

draws on quantitative and qualitative research from just under 1000

marketers, most of whom are members of the Society.

The research points to:

Growing pressures on management to look for short-term profit, bypassing

the benefits of a long-term marketing strategy.

Customer service and satisfaction becoming the key drivers of business,

thereby involving everyone in the organisation, not just the


Difficulty in quantifying and justifying marketing expenditure.

Introduction of new customer-related technology which is often outside

marketers’ control and, at times, their understanding.

The challenge, says the report, is for marketing to impose and

co-ordinate quality control over the growing number of customer

interfaces. ’Unless it does so,’ the report warns, ’it will become

marginalised and reduced to an isolated department, managing its own

shrinking agenda of communication-related activities.’

Consumer power

The core problem for marketing is that the shift towards focusing on

customer satisfaction has reduced the emphasis placed on brands.

Of the respondents to the Marketing Society survey, 80% agreed that

customer satisfaction is now ranked very closely with profitability as a

key measure of business success. They were more ambiguous about the

future of brands, with 31% agreeing that unless brand costs are cut

their competitive position will become unsustainable, and 40%


So why are consumers exerting so much power?

Mark Hartstone, who heads advertising agency FCB’s Mind and Moods

consumer focus groups, says consumer strength comes from the fact that

they have demystified marketing and the techniques used to sell to them.

’They are moving the ball game beyond a simple matter of brand and

communication issues,’ he says.

This would be fine if marketing could respond on a higher level, but, as

Hartstone says: ’The planning and strategic function of marketing is

being usurped by other parts of the business. If the whole company is

marketing focused then this is not too bad, but if it is not then the

message will become inconsistent and the customer will think you’re a


The consumer’s dim view of the marketing profession is confirmed by a

Marketing/NOP poll of 1000 consumers (see table, above). Marketers are

seen by the public as only slightly more trustworthy than MPs and estate

agents and enjoy less trust than lawyers, bank managers, teachers and

doctors. Bizarrely, journalists are the least trusted of the lot.

Clearly, there is a need here for marketers to raise their game. And

they would, if they had time.

Lack of time for strategic planning, too little support and an overload

of information are common frustrations faced by marketers (see panel,

right), leaving the impression that they are so bogged down in

administration that there is little or no time for them to do the most

important part of their jobs: thinking about the future.

Alan McWalter, marketing director for Woolworths, says the ability of

marketing to maintain its status in the organisation depends on the

skill and strength of the marketing director. ’The marketing function

should be spearheading the philosophy of the company and it is up to the

marketing director to shape that framework,’ he says.

’This may involve handing over some marketing responsibility to other

areas in the business, but if the framework of the company is correct,

than that is OK. If the marketer has the right skills he need not feel


McWalter cites Tim Mason’s efforts at Tesco as an example of a marketer

spearheading strategy. ’Tesco would clearly say that the role of

marketing in shaping the destiny of the company is greater than ever


But marketing-focused companies like Tesco are not as numerous as they

may seem. Just because the chief executive officer claims his emphasis

is on customer satisfaction does not mean he has a marketing-driven


Peter Dart, chief executive of the Added Value Company, says: ’The

danger when the whole organisation becomes marketing-focused is that

nobody ends up doing any real marketing. CEOs say they are geared up for

marketing, but if you dig below the surface you can see these are often

just hollow words. Part of the problem is that a lot of senior

management use the word ’marketing’ without understanding what it


It is this real understanding of marketing at the top that the new

generation of marketers want to see. As the Marketing Society study

shows, younger marketers are full of enthusiasm and bursting with ideas,

but crave guidance from the top and from contemporary marketing gurus

like Richard Branson.

’I want to see a marketing philosophy at the very top, as a driving

force,’ said one member of a focus group.

Old guard on their guard

They are also frustrated that too much time is spent navel-gazing and

not enough executing strategy. ’Marketing is a self-perpetuating

industry, therefore it has to create its own jargon and a sense of

self-importance. That’s why it’s under threat,’ was another comment from

a focus group.

The older marketers that these youngsters may seek guidance from appear

to be equally frustrated. Interested in preserving the status quo, they

are deeply unsettled by the changes sweeping the profession and see

themselves as the likely victims.

Dart is not surprised that there is a gulf between the outlooks of the

new and old marketing guards. ’People are feeling uncertain because

marketing has reached a crossroads,’ he says. ’Business has run out of

steam by driving growth through cost-cutting, mergers and acquisitions

and has now come full circle back to demand-led growth.

’Some of the older-generation marketers have had a slightly artificial

idea of growth, but the new generation can see consumer demand and want

to get at it.

’The result is that there is a disconnection between visions and a

feeling from the younger generation that they are not getting the

leadership and encouragement they need.’

Another difference is that the latest generation of marketers need a

different type of training. McWalter, of Woolworths, says: ’In the past,

marketing was a craft that was learnt through apprenticeship. Now

marketers need a wider set of skills, including a first-class

understanding of finance and management. Marketers equipped with these

have every chance of being at the forefront of their company.’


Joys of the job

Giving consumers products they want Bringing solutions to life.

Changing how people think.

Getting it right.

Being in the forefront of change and evolution.

Seeing solutions come to life.

Setting the agenda for the future.

Improving company’s position in the marketplace.

Receiving credit.

The frustrations

Work too hard.

Not enough time.

Information overload.

Lack of support to try new ideas.

No budgets, no interest, negativism.

Retailers’ growing power.

Late briefs, or no briefs.

Internal and external politics.

Rules of game changing.

Less freedom to make changes.

Feeling of isolation, no support from fellow marketers.

Need to justify your role or specialisation.

Globalisation alters the agenda and power base.

Board directors wanting to make marketing decisions.

Quality of staff not good enough.

Finding the right people/stopping them being poached.

Staff with no passion or skill.

The Young Turks

See consumer as being at the centre of the business and think that

understanding their needs is where future opportunities exist.

Looking for genuine consumer insights and techniques to measure the

results of marketing.

Want new ideas and to learn from real-life, honest experience.

Want to learn from case histories, role models, marketing gurus.

Want challenges, stimulation and excitement - no bullshit.

Concerned that there’s too much thinking and not enough action.

Say it is too easy for profession to get submerged in jargon.

Think marketing is under threat because it is too exclusive and



Reached a stage where forced to specialise.

At a personal and career crossroads, having to grab a role for


See the brand as an asset but fear they are losing themselves in pursuit

and defence of the brand.

Want to move into a more challenging global/international context.

The Old Guard

Criticise marketing because it is:

Loosely focused.

Does not know or understand where it should be going.

Full of people who have lost confidence and are on the back foot.

An expenditure waiting to be cut.

Concerned that someone has to protect the brand, but fear that they have

become the commodity in a potential demise of marketing.

How optimistic do you feel about the future of marketing?

Very optimistic                               29%

Fairly optimistic                             66%

Not very optimistic                           5%

Source: Marketing Society survey


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