The Marketing Forum will provide an ideal opportunity for the sector to
refocus, writes Laura Mazur
As the cruise ship Oriana slowly slips away from its mooring at
Southampton this week, the 900 or so of the UK’s marketing fraternity on
board for the Marketing Forum are assured of comfortable, even luxurious
surroundings for the three-day event.
But to what extent the mental state of the 600-odd clients on board will
match their physical comfort is open to question: they will be hearing
some pretty challenging views about marketing’s state of health.
If there are any common threads running through the range of talks and
seminars, it is that of learning and change. This is hardly surprising.
Companies are facing dramatic and swift changes in markets that verge on
The only way to survive is to become an organisation which is always
learning and listening. And the conference participants will hear that
although marketing should be right in the middle of this process, it has
to earn its place.
The tone will be set in the opening address by Sir Christopher Ball, the
director of learning for the Royal Society of Arts Examinations Board
(RSA) and chairman of the National Campaign for Learning.
This campaign is devoted to raising people’s aspirations, getting them
to think about their own learning and its value, and how they can
‘Learning is probably the only thing that does pay at the end of the
20th century,’ according to Ball. ‘That leads to ideas such as the
creation of a learning market. Notice how the vaguely held social belief
that holidays are good for you has led to an enormous growth in the
market for packaged holidays. It is funded entirely by the private
sector, and people will pay a lot of money for holidays. We don’t expect
the state to pay.’
Learning is even better for you, he will argue. ‘But because learning is
probably a good thing, we expect it to be funded by the public sector
out of the tax base because we feel that governments should pay for good
things and the market should provide for things that don’t matter very
much. I will argue that there is a terrible fallacy in this mode of
thought and that to create a learning society we have to learn to put
private before public funding.’
He also believes that in the 21st century people will have to move from
today’s concentration on focused specialists to being flexible
generalists first. ‘It is a big reversal of ideas. Your focused
specialism will be almost like a disposable asset to be discarded every
This is an apt introduction to the session on defining marketing’s new
role. As Nick Chapman, managing director of Skillbase and one of the
panel for this keynote session, points out: ‘People ought to be
challenging a lot of the history that has been associated with the
function and their roles within it.
‘It is clear from last year’s conference that people were getting
somewhat paranoid about their role. They probably have every reason to
be paranoid because according to surveys the chief executives don’t love
them very much.’
His view is that marketing is struggling like other ‘support’ functions
such as human resources: ‘Like any support function, it gains
credibility through acceptability. If you cannot earn your place at the
top table you are probably not worth it. Everybody in a support function
wants to do strategy, policy and issues. But some are capable of it and
some not. There is no divine right to anything.’
His assertions will be underlined by Laurence Bradley, visual business
campaigns manager at BT Laboratories, who will be showing the audience
that information technology is changing the landscape dramatically.
‘In particular, it is making it possibly straightforward and even
desirable to have ‘many-to-many’ relationships rather than having the
‘one-to-many’ relationships that marketing traditionally uses.’
This also caters to what he calls a latent demand among consumers to
take a more active role in what they buy and do, and to voice an
Bradley will demonstrate this by showing a new medium he calls ‘shared
spaces’, which are three-dimensional worlds on the Internet where people
can meet and talk through both voice and a keyboard. This has
implications for organisational structure.
He warns: ‘It will be necessary to be more fluid and match structure to
task. In other words, if the task is to go out there into cyberspace and
harness comments, and drive the organisation from that basis of being
part of a community, then the job of the marketer becomes one of
convening a network of relationships.’
Developing and managing customer relationships is indeed at the heart of
modern marketing, as Malcolm McDonald, professor of marketing planning
and chairman of Cranfield Marketing Planning Centre, and Garth Hallberg,
worldwide director of differential marketing at Ogilvy & Mather Direct,
McDonald will elaborate on modern ways to manage customers in the
business-to-business arena through the techniques of key account
management (KAM), an area in which Cranfield has done a lot of work.
He will show that, based on original research, in markets characterised
by maturity, over-capacity and lack of differentiation, the need to
manage relationships in a comprehensive sense and not just in terms of
selling and negotiating is crucial.
‘Since all the objective functional measures have improved dramatically
over the past five years or so, and there is a sort of sameness about
most products and services, buyers are moving more into the subjective
dimension where relationships are becoming more important,’ says
What KAM offers is a model for moving from the beginning of a
buyer/seller relationship to a quasi-integrated relationship in which
both the buyer and the seller work closely as a team with a focus on the
Hallberg will look at the consumer side of the equation and the need to
manage customers through a close relationship.
According to Hallberg, ‘What I try to say is that this is not just a
business-to-business phenomenon but it can be done for consumer brands.
The thought of reaching out to individual consumers boggles the mind of
most brand marketers because, particularly in the US, you are dealing
with tens of million of people. So how can you possible reach out?’
What you have to do, he argues, is shed the mass-marketing mentality and
understand that only a very small proportion of those customers are
really vital to the business, on the 80/20 principle: that 20% of
customers provide 80% of sales.
Hallberg will back this up with some telling statistics. For example,
about 16% of households in the US account for 80% of the volume in
yoghurt. In the UK, 20% of households account for 80% of volume, while
in canned beer and stout, 13% of adults account for 91% of sales.
As if redefining their role and rethinking their customer relationship
were not enough to keep the over-worked marketer awake at night, the
thorny issue of accountability will not go away. A key discussion point
again this year, it signals the relentless pressure on marketing to
prove its worth.
‘I don’t think marketing has failed,’ says Hugh Davidson, chairman of
Oxford Corporate Consulting and a speaker in this session. ‘But I do
think marketers face an unpromising future unless they greatly broaden
their skills and strengthen their position at the board room table by
taking a lot more control and leadership in the corporate, rather than
just marketing strategy.’
He highlights a number of key skills which boards of directors want to
see being delivered by marketing personnel, and which are perceived by
some to be under-utilised and under-valued in today’s workplace. They
* Innovation. The failure rate for new products does not inspire
confidence in marketing.
* Excellent project management. Boards are looking for marketing
specialists to be as effective in developing new, innovative products
and ad campaigns, as their production staff are in building new plants.
* Leading corporate strategy and anticipating the future. Marketing has
to some extent lost out to the corporate strategists, who are often from
financial backgrounds and hence tend to be more short-term in their
thinking. How often, for example, do marketers get involved in
discussions on acquisitions?
* Internal marketing. Marketing is losing out to corporate communication
in this vital area.
The overall message, says Davidson, is for marketers to improve and
broaden their skills. This can be achieved by a better understanding of
operations, of technology and of finance, and by relating these to
consumer skills in order to earn the board’s respect.
Andrew Seth, non-executive chairman of The Added Value Company, and
Chris Wood, managing director of CLK, plan to repeat their popular
double act from last year on innovation.
Seth intends to paint the larger picture, and will focus as much on
innovation performance by successful practitioners as he will on the
principles of world class innovation.
Wood will then examine innovation on the ground by showing that people
who are considered brilliant innovators all agree that there is no big
secret: innovation is about doing the basic things well.
He will point out that innovation is more akin to engineering than
inspiration; that it is about leveraging your strength, and motivating
good people. It is not about having an idea, about following the crowd,
or only about the radically new.
‘Everybody is looking for the one answer to innovation. But life simply
isn’t like that,’ says Wood.
Anyone who tries to get hold of a client nowadays knows that marketers
spend most of their working days - and nights - either in meetings or
travelling. So the idea to hold an event on a boat where they cannot get
off was inspired.
Until this year, the conference was held on the Canberra, a 35-year-old
ship that became synonymous with the Marketing Forum. Unfortunately, its
age showed. Now in its fourth year, the 1996 Forum will take place in
the more salubrious surroundings of the Oriana, an 18-month-old,
purpose-built cruise ship. According to Deborah Parkes, project manager
for the Forum at Richmond Event, ‘The Oriana will make a difference. She
has the latest technology and the latest in everything. The conference
facilities are better than you would get in most purpose-built
conference venues on land.’
The idea is also being exported.
Following the UK event, Richmond Events is holding its first Italian
Marketing Forum six weeks after the UK meeting, with a US event
scheduled for next year.