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.’
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.’
THE MARKETER’S VIEW
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.
Work too hard.
Not enough time.
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:
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