Is the Profession of Marketing Doomed?

Jan 23, 2024 by Mark Baines Category: Knowhow

As I found out, the Cardiff School of Management think it might be!

Their large survey of marketers fed into a Conference I attended at Oxford Brookes Business School which they worryingly called ‘Thrive or Survive: Marketing’s next chapter?’

I had hoped to get two things out of the Event:

  • An answer to the perennial question of ‘what is marketing’s role’ in an organisation.
  • How will this up-to-date knowledge help me to better understand our client’s and prospects perception of us as an agency, and therefore what is expected of us?

The morning consisted of a presentation of the findings of their large scale survey, along with the conclusions they have drawn from them.

In the afternoon, there was a panel discussion including Dr June Dennis, Chair of CIM, and Mark Scott, CIM Director of Marketing and Communications, as well as several academics and PLC CMOs, followed by a Workshop ‘Revisiting Marketing Strategy, can it still be a source of influence and legitimacy for marketers inside their organisation?’

Phew! (I am a glutton for punishment and love these sorts of Events, so I was well in there!)

The morning session looked at how marketers were challenged in their organisations about their assumptions around practising their profession. It was interesting to note that in consumer marketing, marketers are fully accepted and their recommendations welcomed and implemented. Just look at retail and FMCG – they are all led by ‘marketing’ and marketers. It’s a no-brainer.

However in B2B this is not the case: very often it is the engineers (for engineering companies), lawyers (for law firms) and accountants (for accountancy practices) etc who drive the marketing agenda, and marketers are there just to implement their will rather than advise on strategy, direction, positioning, brand development and all the other clever things that underpin a company’s survival and growth. They are relegated to fulfilling purely tactical implementation tasks: the ‘colouring-in department’.

The survey found there was:

  • Resistance in organisations to marketers using their own language – it has to be simplified and marketing professionals should not hide behind jargon, which just raises suspicions amongst their colleagues in other departments.
  • Boardroom colleagues often had no time for them and just wanted them ‘to get on with it’. At best they would only read the executive summary of a report or recommendation.
  • Marketing ‘strategy’ can be a turn-off at a senior level. They see it as ‘marketing bollocks’, whilst they consider themselves to be the people who ‘own the customers’ and drive the business forwards. This despite the fact that the strategy might be based on sound market insight and will clearly have a huge impact on the business.
  • Some marketers are uncomfortable with the title ‘marketers’, so use buzz-words like ‘Agile Marketing’ or ‘Scrum Managers’ instead. This at least has the benefit of appealing to new young entry-level professionals, whilst ‘marketing’ can seem a bit old-school and carries a lot of baggage.
  • Nearly all people at the Board level like to think they themselves are marketers, so they often try and do the marketer’s job, without valuing it coming from a ‘professional’. ‘I didn’t get to where I am today without knowing a thing or two about marketing!’

In a metaphysical context marketing is defined as a series of business choices, decisions and practices – in other words all the things that need to be done, around the customer, which will satisfy their needs and drive the business forwards.

This raises the question of who ‘owns’ the customer, which is an oxymoron because in pure marketing-speak, the customer is king and he/she ‘owns’ the supplier, who simply labours to fulfil their needs and wants. So there is clearly a mismatch here, which manifests itself in conflict between professional marketers and corporate arrogance! Or maybe it is just the old-fashioned, top-down style of management espoused by boardroom bullies and the older generation?

In such cases you end up with the dominant profession in an organisation (eg engineers in an engineering company, lawyers in a law firm) ‘doing it’, whilst marketers just have to get on with what they’re told.

It’s marketing by stealth – not good for the company nor the marketing industry as a whole.

There is no doubt that the profession of marketing is going through radical change at the moment – but then again, when wasn’t it? I’ve supported and made many millionaires in my professional career, but I don’t expect to be thanked other than through Marcom’s bank balance.

‘Marketing – that’s the Fluffy Department!’

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