Does the buck stop in the boardroom or the marketing department?
The issue has been brought into focus by the ongoing turmoil in the supermarket sector, where the relentless march of the discounters has been overwhelming many of the established players. Sir Terry Leahy, the former Tesco chief executive, put the blame for the company’s faltering performance firmly at the door of his successor, Philip Clarke, who lost a number of senior executives and ultimately his job. "There was a shortage of experience," Leahy said. "In the end, that’s a failure of leadership, not a failure of the business."
That, though, is not the view of Martin Glenn, the one-time PepsiCo marketer who is now the United Biscuits chief executive. "All business failures are actually marketing failures," he said last week. So who are the real culprits when companies lose their way? Is it the directors who ought to be instinctive marketers with an understanding of what is going on around them and how to react? Or is it the marketers who have not done their jobs properly?
Cilla Snowball, group chairman, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
"Putting the consumer at the heart of everything is the hallmark of a good business. Understanding the consumer better than anyone else is the hallmark of good marketing. And the two normally go hand in hand. The best chief executives obsess about customers, customer service and customer satisfaction. The best marketers obsess about creating value for the consumer. And, together, they push that obsession right through an organisation. It’s great to have marketing people represented on boards. Many of the best ones are now CEOs themselves. But great marketing isn’t about quotas. It’s about an entire business obsessing about the customer."
Mark Hunter, president and chief executive, Molson Coors
"I agree with Glenn’s sentiment. Any business has to have a clarity of purpose and proposition, and you must be able to align your people behind both of those things. You could say that amounts to a marketing philosophy but, if you don’t have that clarity of purpose, then you run the risk of failure. You could say good marketing is all about understanding the positioning of your brands. For me, that should be part of a total business approach. I think also that a good leadership team should have a good blend of general management and specialist skills – and that includes marketing."
April Redmond, chief marketing officer, Kerry Foods
"I completely disagree with Glenn. Business failings are down to bad leadership. It’s incumbent on all companies to focus on what’s right for their customers. If that isn’t happening, then that’s the fault of the leadership rather than the marketing. While a lot of companies do focus fully on consumer needs, others don’t adapt to changing markets as they should. That’s often because of the way company boards are configured. They tend to be dominated by finance and operations people as well as lawyers, while marketers are notably absent. Boards need to be appointing more of them."
Jeff Dodds, chief executive, Tele2 Netherlands; former chief marketing officer, Virgin Media
"Marketing covers many things from advertising to pricing and product development. It’s a very broad discipline, but it doesn’t reach into every department of a company. If it did, the marketing director would be the chief executive of every business. Glenn’s contention is that a large number of business failures are down to marketing failures. I wonder if he is just being provocative. The fact is that business can get into trouble for all kinds of reasons – from technology and engineering failures to accounting problems. These may be leadership-related issues, but they’re not marketing-related ones."