FORUM PREVIEW: Marketing Forum: the learning channel

The Marketing Forum will provide an ideal opportunity for the sector to refocus, writes Laura Mazur

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 turbulent.

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

improve it.

‘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

ten years.’

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,

will discuss.

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

end customers.

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.


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