The new role of marketing

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The reason why companies have worked photocopy business plans for so long is because they never thought to work any other way. It just seemed too risky. The rise and rise of producer nations, in the words of Michael Porter, “rivetted attention on implementation”. Watching Japan, then China and India continue to progress, many companies fell further into the action trap. They believed that the only way to outrun their immediate competitors and their looming Asian rivals was to, somehow, out-do them.

But as Michael Porter has commented: “It’s incredibly arrogant for a company to believe that it can deliver the same sort of product that its rivals do and actually do better for very long … It’s extremely dangerous to bet on the incompetence of your competitors” – and that, he says, is what companies are doing when they rely on operational effectiveness for competitive advantage.

My sense is that operational effectiveness and efficiency currently account for about 50 – 70% of perceived competitive advantage, but that percentage is falling. It’s falling, because of course consumer expectations continue to rise – ironically as more and more best of breed thinking is installed – and consumer emotions continue to change – as more channels give consumers unprecedented access to brands and to each other.

As quality becomes ubiquitous, it’s harder and harder to gamble on incompetence.

And it becomes easier and easier for consumers to change brands for no reason whatsoever other than what they feel. Because the actual risk in doing so is getting smaller and smaller thanks to best-of-breed.

All this makes for an irrational economy. And the irrational economy plays by very different rules.

As Avi Dan points out in this article in Forbes, “Customers are now able find out much about the company they wish to engage with: where and how a company makes its products; how it treats its employees, retired workers, and suppliers; how much it pays its top executives; how seriously it takes its environmental responsibilities and the like.”

The criteria is no longer what they get. It’s just as much what they know – and therefore feel.

The role of CMOs in such a world, Dan goes on to say, is “to meld the internal and external faces of the enterprise”.

That’s a quite extraordinary mandate. It ratifies the points made by Tom French, Laura LaBerge and Paul Magill of McKinsey that not only are all organisations marketers now, but that, in an era where “marketing is the company”, marketers themselves must rethink and reassert their influence.

  • CMOs, they say, will increasingly be held accountable for performances beyond their direct report. Any action that involves a customer will become traceable back to marketing. That’s a whole new set of metrics.
  • Marketers will have greater influence over other areas traditionally outside their sphere of influence because of the converging roles these functions now play in helping the organisation connect with customers. While much has been made of the need for the CIO and CMO to work more closely together, the authors also point to relationships with distibutors, digital teams, physical networks and third-party partnerships. Any interaction that makes contact with a customer will include marketing. That’s a much more complex picture to understand.
  • Marketers will have more responsibility for generating rich customer insights, but, the authors say, expect to see a shift in marketing team skills from, say, researching to problem-solving and strategic-marketing designed to inform critical business result elements such as pricing, sales targeting, and product selection and development. Marketing will become an influential voice in strategic goal setting and not just an operational function to achieve what has been set. That’s a very different set of core skills.
  • Whilst I agree with the authors, to a degree, that marketing will become a more data rich and analytically intense activity, my reservations from my last post still stand. There will be more data to play with – but marketers themselves will stand or fall, in my view, on their ability to read the human factors in the numbers rather than just analysing the numbers themselves. Marketers will need to be able to activate consumers at an emotive level not just interpret how they have acted or will act based on patterns. Instinct will count as never before.

Increasingly, this suggests to me that CMOs will be called on to take responsibility for overseeing much more than marketing strategies. The 4Ps marketers have known for so long will give way not just to 5Ps or even 6Ps, but to an idea that supersets all that and more.

Marketers will in time oversee a brand’s entire market presence: to market, in market and beyond market. And their ability to represent and advocate for customer wants internally, market to buyers warmly and distinctly (directly and indirectly), and monitor and engage with prospects, influencers and analysts socially will help decide the brands consumers are drawn to, and who they choose to disregard.

More reading

The great customer vanishing act: what happens when you can’t track them?
The portfolio approach to strategy
The fall of the wall between customers and culture
The power of being purposeful

Other perspectives

2 thoughts on “The new role of marketing

  1. Great article. This world is changing so much, and marketing is as well. Its important to be fluid enough to change with the demands and react quickly. Not many companies can actually pull it off.

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