Will non-marketers ever understand Marketing? 

The United Kingdom’s professional marketing association the Chartered Institute of Marketing is once again drawing attention to the long standing problem faced by the marketing profession because of it’s misunderstood identity and organizational purpose. 

Like some weird sort of managerial Rubik’s cube the Marketing profession is made up of all sorts of functions and tasks that can be arranged in a multitude of ways without the puzzle ever being properly solved. Each person seems to have their own ‘perfect cube combo’ and each one isn’t necessarily arranged in the same way. For some folks it all about digital, for others it about value creation, for others its advertising for others its all about the brand.

The fact that large numbers of senior executives in business don’t see Marketing as having any strategic purpose naturally irks aficionados’ of the marketing ideal who passionately believe in the philosophy of marketing as the raison d’etre of business and so the CIM has launched its new strategy to address this issue which is spotlighted in Campaign Magazine’s article Chartered Institute of Marketing ups focus on strategic marketing in new platform 

…cue marketing’s angst ridden credibility  anthem:


“Baby, do you understand me now
Sometimes I feel a little mad
Well don’t you know that no-one alive
Can always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem to be bad
I’m just a soul who’s intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”

Written by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus

So why is marketing so misunderstood?

You’d think that ever since Professor and Marketing godfather Philip Kotler wrote his article ‘The Generic Concept of Marketing’ ( see Kotler P. (1972) A Generic Concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing, 36, (April), 46-54) that the job of selling the idea and value of Marketing for every organisation on the planet from Global businesses to your kids street lemonade stall was hardly necessary. Indeed in that article Kotler observed:

‘In 1969, this author and Professor Levy advanced the view that marketing is a relevant discipline for all organizations insofar as all organizations can be said to have customers and products.’

The key principles of the marketing paradigm seem to be a done deal don’t they? Customer centricity, competitor awareness, meaningful competitive difference, creation of customer and business value. And yet it seems there’s never a month passes by when professional marketers complain that they are misunderstood and undervalued by almost everyone who is not a marketer.

A few things struck me as interesting in the recent Tweet from the Chartered Institute of Marketing titled Chartered Institute of Marketing ups focus on Strategic Marketing.

Let’s have a look at them in the context of common marketing profession complaints about the way their role is misunderstood.

  1. Marketing is much more than advertising and communications
  2. Marketing is not selling.
  3. Marketing is strategic not tactical
  4. Marketing creates competitive advantage rather than provides mouse-mats

All seems fair enough to me. However might the CIM have undermined its argument when Chris Daly, CIM’s chief executive, says:

“Marketing has been not good at marketing itself”

This struck me as ironic in a news piece where the line is about the strategic role of marketing in business. Doesn’t this statement fall into the very trap it seeks to avoid? The term ‘marketing’ seems to be used here to infer some sort of marketing communications/sales challenge as marketing’s primary role?

I would suggest that a better way of expressing the predicament could be:

‘Marketing has not been good at explaining to the people that matter in their organisation the commercial and customer value it creates’

Something I have observed in many businesses is that the CEO typically regards themselves as the person who defines and signs off the business value proposition in response to their interpretation of market and customer need. Consequently the marketing function is seen in the organisation as the ‘Voice of the CEO’, the mouthpiece that communicates the pre-given value proposition rather than plays a central role in defining and shaping it.

Fundamentally the battle over the role and purpose of Marketing seems to be a battle over who defines the organisations response to expressions of what customer value is and how will the business deliver it. It is therefore not so much an issue of effective and persuasive communication but organisational power.

In that sense the call for Marketing to play a more ‘strategic’ role is really a call for marketing to play a more decisive role in what the business should be doing and how it should be done. The issue that this raises is profound. It is about a battle over ‘who says so and who’s say so counts’ with implications for the sort of organisational set up. In a rigidly hierarchical structure (Fit in or F@*k Off management situation) then chances are the CMO will be on the edges of strategic decisions charged with creating a brand that sells. In a more collaborative structure the CMO will be regarded as providing sage counsel to the CEO and other board and shareholding colleagues on customer insights, customer value, market developments and so on and hence have more strategic influence.

So can Marketing’s Rubik cube ever be solved? Will Marketing ever be understood?

Who knows! So instead of trying to work that out why not tell me what your Professional Anthem would be in my Typeform Survey

My Professional Anthem Is

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