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


Is marketing simply teaching new dogs old tricks?

Can anyone tell me if they’ve come across any new earth-shattering insight about marketing that hasn’t been discovered already?

Marketing is all about new ideas

The impression of marketing given in social media is that it is a profession that is forever in a state of flux and that if you don’t keep up with change you are doomed to failure.Well there’s an old trick for a start! Fear sells – terrify your prospect that their future career or business is in jeopardy if they don’t take on your ideas.The principles of marketing are enduring and are unlikely to change. This is because they combine into a particular managerial world view. What Thomas Kuhn called a Paradigm.

Marketing is all about old ideas

Now the thing about paradigms is they create acolytes. Acolytes are people who are introduced to the mantras and creed of a world view and fall in love with the paradigm because it makes sense of the world in a way that was hidden to them before. The paradigm is so helpful that the acolytes then evangelise about it (tell every and anybody that it is ‘the way’ and the only way and all other ways are wrong.

People new to marketing are initiated into the rites of the marketing profession, its principles methods and language. Many of these people are at the early stage of their commercial career others may come to marketing mid-career whilst studying an MBA or similar.

Seasoned business professionals are rarely taught anything fundamentally new about marketing – they actually know it all and practice it’s principles instinctively.

Of course other paradigms come along to replace prevailing ones but only when a completely new way of seeing things is put forward. Views such as Service Dominant Logic might be classed as one and the ideas published in the area of Critical Marketing. Everything else I read about concerning everyday marketing management and problem solving sits within the conventional marketing paradigm.

So whilst I read a lot about new techniques such as the application of social media in marketing activities, and trends such as the importance of story telling for brands,  because I’ve been around a while I don’t actually see anything truly new in terms of everyday marketing management thinking. Let’s check a few of the marketing stalwarts out.

Marketing’s old ideas

  • Customers buy benefits not features
  • There is a difference between need and want
  • Brands are a promise of value
  • Customer segmentation and targeting is an effective use of scarce resources
  • Make the marketing mix relevant to the target customer
  • Firms need meaningful differentiation to compete
  • Customer centricity should be your focus
  • Keep an eye on your competitors
  • Plan what you by following the structure; where are we? where do we want to be? set out how to get there, and measure your effectiveness
  • Don’t give profit away
  • Have a dialogue with your customers
  • Changing the logo is not changing the brand
  • Some customer aren’t worth doing business with

Have I got this wrong? Are there any new principles you would teach new dogs?

Is it time to throw away your marketing ideas?

Trash-to-TreasureRecently I wrote about how ideas come and go in the field of marketing.

It’s as if marketing practice has become a parody of itself through the relentless consumption of the latest management ideas and the disposal of ‘worn once’ theories.

This analogy could be stretched further if you then think of university business schools as the sweat shops where marketing ideas are churned out for the insatiable demands of journals and readers.

The image on the Luevo website shown here seemed to capture the sentiment I had in mind perfectly. Imagine yourself as a marketing executive rummaging around your wardrobe of latest marketing ideas desperately trying to find something to wear at the next strategy meeting, product innovation gathering or the next campaign planning session.

An article by Rebecca Coleman in Marketing Week really brought this home to me when she wrote about us entering the post mindfulness era. No doubt many of you will have read about and even experienced a mindfulness course. All the rage over the last couple of years as a way of improving you work/life balance and your personal effectiveness. Now it seems mindfulness is just a disposable fashion item.

The issue of managerial fads and fashion is not new. Most MBA courses will get their students to write an essay exploring it. What intrigues me is why practitioners hunger for new idea after new idea when many of the deepest and most helpful marketing insights have been uncovered years ago?

Neuro-marketing is another. The lure of mystical insights into the workings of the customer’s mind is beguiling. But are we really finding out anything new and helpful about customer thinking and behaviour?

Do marketing people really need to know the inner working of the brain when we already know that novelty and surprise  turn customers on? Surely practitioners only need to operate at the level of analysis of the general phenomenon rather than delve deep cognitive and neurological functioning of the most complex organism in the universe? Are we marketeers or doctors of medicine? Knowing serotonin levels might be very interesting but does it impact on the bottom line?

What if we turned the issue on it’s head? I would argue that the central ideas we have in marketing are enduring (customer centricity, competitor awareness, value creation). What changes are the cohorts of new entrants into the profession each year eager to learn. Is this why there is a demand for ideas? Not new ideas but new people wanting to learn? For them everything will be ‘new’ and ‘new’ is better.  It’s as if the classic wisdom of the profession somehow gets lost in the pursuit of the fashionable idea. Ideas from the 1960s reappear with a slight style twist of today.

Just like fashionable clothes too the experienced business person will say ‘but we did that years ago’ (focusing on the similarity of ideas) whereas the early career marketer will say ‘this is the latest thing’ (focusing on the difference of ideas to satisfy their craving for novelty).

So if we look at the example of Sentiment Analysis which is all the rage in tracking social media to find out how is saying positive and negative things about your brand on Twitter and Facebook. Where is the difference between that and the enduring concern with understanding what your customers say about your products and services that has been around for decades?

Simply look at:

Keith R.J. (1960) The Marketing Revolution. Journal of Marketing.

Miles L.D. (1961) Techniques of Value Analysis and Engineering. New York: McGraw- Hill Book Company.

Both emphasise the need to listen to the customer.

Then look at:

Griffen A. Hauser J.R. (1993) The Voice Of The Customer. Marketing Science (12) -1 which is the seminal work on this topic.

Maybe it’s time to take a step a back, slow down and go back to the classics?

My suggestion would be why not ‘wear’ an original idea rather than some superficial modern day copy?

McKitterick J.B (1957) What is the Marketing Concept? In Frontiers of Marketing Thought and Science. Frank M Bass.ed. Chicago. Amercian Marketing Association. Pp71-87
Bagozzi R.P. (1974) Marketing as Exchange. Journal of Marketing(38)
Kotler P. Levy, S.J. (1969) Broadening the concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing Vol 33,(1) pp 10-15
Kotler P. (1972) A Generic Concept of Marketing. Journal of Marketing, 36, (April), 46-54
Levitt T. (1960) Marketing Myopia. Harvard Business Review.
Levitt T. (1980) Marketing Success through the differentiation of anything. Harvard Business Review.
Levitt T. (1981) Marketing Intangible Products and Product Intangibles. Harvard Business Review.
Levy S. (1959) Symbols for Sale . Harvard Business Review
Borden N.H., 1964. The concept of the marketing mix. Journal of Advertising Research 4 (2), 2–7.
McCarthy J. (1964), Basic Marketing. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin.
Aaker J. Dimensions of Brand Personality Journal of Marketing Research, 1 August 1997, Vol.34(3), pp.347-356
Holbrook M.B. (1999) Consumer value: a framework for analysis and research. Routledge, London
Ravald A. and Gronroos C. (1996) The Value Concept and Relationship Marketing, European Journal of Marketing, 30, No, 2, pp. 19-30.
Woodruff R.B. (1997) Customer value: The next source for competitive advantage: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 139-153
Bower M., Garda R. A. (1985) The role of marketing in management. The McKinsey Quarterly, 3, 34−46.









Good Morning Marketing This Is Your Wake Up Call

Emerging after recent months of recent blogging hibernation I’ve started re-pondering ‘my research question’. I know that, all sounds very academic and a seemingly very obvious thing that someone doing some university research should easily get a grip of. It isn’t. Surely I hear you think, if you want to find something out, it’s because you have an unanswered question and there must loads of those! For me though, 2010 was the year of the ‘unidentified research question’. I need to crack on.

In order to break the log jam (hibernating beaver metaphor alert!) I’ve been reading a variety of articles about current issues in marketing thinking and management. One stood out. Are We Nearly There Yet? On The Retro Dominant Logic Of Marketing. Written in 2007 by Stephen Brown of the University of Ulster, this is a great example of his insightful, bitingly humourous, and thought provoking style. In this article he uses the metaphors of cars and journeys to talk about the state of contemporary thinking and practice in Marketing. Here’s a flavour:

“Once or twice per decade, a radically new concept car makes an unheralded appearance. Souped -up, fully loaded and kitted out, inevitably, with a paradigm shift as standard, this go faster model is universally lauded as the next big scholarly thing, and, for a short time at least, become marketing’s conceptual vehicle of choice, the car that that’ll carry our discipline to its final destination, the fabled city of Scienceoplis.”

To mash up the metaphors. In a nutshell Marketing is a fad rich environment which is strewn with empty new bottles that had old wine in them. A world where practitioners regularly wake up with a splitting headache after over indulging in marketing nouveau and mutter…never again.

Stephen Brown writes from a Critical Marketing perspective which seeks to bring to our attention the problems created by the all pervading dominance of the Postivistic tone and aspirations in marketing management thinking, writing and practice. The unswerving aspiration, in some quarters of marketing, to become a natural science, to become the fig leaf that covers up any academic embarassment and provide the unequivocal facts and direct causes and effects that managers crave. This is not merely an academic reverie. He does point to a serious issue for marketing. He urges caution towards management notions such as the ‘hot new’ Service Dominant Logic concept (the prime target of his article). He cautions us that such ideas merely serve as what he describes as a “conceptual comfort blanket, something that helps marketers face the reality of mounting marginalization and ever increasing irrelevance”

Now we start to get close to some questions. What is marketing capability? Where is it kept? Why would anyone want it? How critically aware are marketing practitioners? How do practitioners judge the value of new marketing concepts? What are the mechanisms that generate the tendencies towards the various forms of marketing deployment? Why does post modern marketing scare me? What is marketing realism?

Marketing has now gone Service Dominant, or has it? I don’t believe you can change reality by just changing how you talk about it (see Critical Realism and Bhaskar, Collier et al) Maybe that’s why marketing is marginalised by many because ‘marketing mystics and gurus’ believe you can and that doesn’t wash with everyday people like you and me because it isn’t ‘real’! Skunks aren’t pungently challenged…they stink!

Because it seems so many senior executives agree with Matthew Parris (writing in the Times on the 25th Novemeber 2010) that marketing is just communications, PR and word games. An after dinner game to played with nuances and innuendos, a bit of in the dark fumbling (Ambler) it is trivialised as a business ‘entertainment’ exercise. The marketing job can be dropped when times are tough because we know its all just flannel really.

Is it any wonder marketing is burdening under ‘ever increasing irrelevance’ (Brown ibid ). Parris wrote, “when hired to advise on improving the ‘brand’ of an organisation marketing professionals will usually find that clients already know and promote their strengths but shrink from confronting their weaknesses. Therefore the client will be professionally advised to identify and remedy brand weaknesses…the corporate image consultant is not hired to rethink the product itself.”

Question. Can there be a singular definition of marketing? How are product and service solutions originated? Time to read more from Stephen Brown who also seems to like penguins.

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