Is marketing still fit for purpose?

Giles Lury throws down a gauntlet to his fellow marketers

For many, the emergence of brand purpose has helped give marketing new purpose

I’m not so sure. In fact I would go as far as saying there should be some concern as to whether marketing is still fit for purpose. Why do I think this is the case? Firstly, let’s take the aforementioned brand purpose. Marketing departments seem to have tried to rename purpose as ‘brand purpose’ and lay claim to ‘ownership’ of the concept. I think there are dangers in doing so.

The real strength and potential of a purpose could be undermined. A purpose needs to incorporate the business mission and strategy, the growth plan and objectives, the company culture, its values and principles, innovation strategy, and the customer experience the company wants to deliver and its role in society. It should therefore be ‘owned’ right across the organisation, not just claimed by one department.

My worry (based on experience) is that parts of the business won’t engage fully with marketing’s definition of purpose, and any resulting changes in behaviour just won’t happen. One of the reasons why other departments might not engage is another of the concerns I have about marketing: marketing is still often viewed, at its worst, as the ‘colouring in department’. Others see it as a department in awe of advertising, spending too much money with agencies without being able to fully justify the (often) large budgets. In short, marketing often has a reputation for not being commercial enough, of being too arrogant and/or fluffy.

Other recent trends that pose challenges for marketing departments include the shift from a focus on brand to product and experience, how innovation is now often being led by R&D and the rise of ‘performance marketing’.

My issue with performance marketing is that despite its name, it is more sales or new business acquisition rather than sustainable brand building performance

It can play an important role, especially for younger start-ups and it has the benefit that its efficacy is more measurable, but it doesn’t build brand equity. Its focus is on growth and short-term returns — making hay while the sun shines — so it’s the darlings of finance directors, shareholders, and venture capitalists. 

What is marketing doing about this? How is it adapting or is it merely embracing it and is that the right thing to do?

Numerous companies don’t see the shortcomings of performance marketing and its sales not brand focus, a reflection of a shift away from brand to product and/or experience focused thinking. This is something more prevalent in start-ups, digitally native, tech and content brands. It is backed up by recent research, for example in a  study conducted by PWC it was found that a good customer experience is what people (consumers) really value.  The results indicated that it was not only a key deciding factor in choosing a brand, but that it is product/service performance and not brand image that truly drives people’s perception of the value they get from a brand.

This, of course, begs the question: what is marketing’s role here, and is it ready to play it? One consequence of these changes, and a further indication that marketing isn’t really fit for purpose, is that in many of the new generation of ‘brands’, and indeed other organisations, is that the Chief Marketing Officer doesn’t have a seat on the board. Instead, they answer to a Chief Customer Officer, a Chief Growth Officer or a Chief CX (customer experience) Officer.

Interesting times ahead for marketing

I don’t think I’m crying ‘wolf’… and although I recognise that some marketers are reviewing their role and how they go about delivering it, I know others who still see marketing as the centre of any business and are clinging to old marketing notions. They are behind the curve. The AMA’s current approved definition of marketing is that it: ‘is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.’

My questions are: Does this definition still sound right or does it need to be adapted? Does current marketing even live up to it? What do other departments think, and do they want more or less from marketing? And perhaps, to get the discussion going, my perspective is that marketing needs to embrace a broader definition of purpose. Marketing needs to evolve from an obsession with what the company or brand says and move to a more fundamental position on what the business does; from vision, growth, values, culture, growth and role in society.

Marketing is more than what you say and how you measure the sales return on that product and message; marketing needs to be about how the brand behaves and that will mean working more closely with other department on a more equal, and dare I say, less arrogant basis.

Featured image: PhotoMIX Company / Pexels

Giles Lury

Giles would describe himself as a VW Beetle driving, Lego watch-wearing, Disney-loving, Chelsea-supporting father of five who also happens to be a senior director of leading strategic brand consultancy - The Value Engineers. He has over thirty years’ experience in the business and is known both for his creative spark and his ability to constructively challenge conventional thinking which has led to him being given another title - Director of Deviancy.

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