Marketing Focus: Rolling with the punches - As marketing emerges from a serious bout of self-analysis, James Curtis reports on the fundamental problems that have been revealed

Marketing has got to change; it is in urgent need of attention and requires a radical shake-up to prepare it for the new millennium. At least that’s what industry bodies, think-tanks, management consultants and corporate ’gurus’ are all telling us.

Marketing has got to change; it is in urgent need of attention and

requires a radical shake-up to prepare it for the new millennium. At

least that’s what industry bodies, think-tanks, management consultants

and corporate ’gurus’ are all telling us.

The Marketing Society and The Marketing Forum lead the way with some

hefty research into the role of marketing. McKinsey’s will shortly be

adding to the pile with a report for The Marketing Council, and Bob

Tyrrell, ex-chairman of The Henley Centre and now non-executive director

of brand consultants New Solutions, has been holding seminars calling

for a complete rethink of the marketing function.

This collective bout of navel-gazing reveals some deep-set problems and

suggests some radical solutions. It is clear that marketing has a

credibility problem inside and outside the company and risks becoming

sidelined with a narrower, less influential role. Never before has the

profession been subjected to so much analysis and debate.

Many may wonder whether this climate of change is another extension of

the reforming zeal currently sweeping the country. We have New Labour,

we live in New Britain - why not have New Marketing?

In truth, the issue has been around for some time, but it is only

recently that positive moves have been made to address it.

In the five years that The Marketing Forum has been running, the issue

of rethinking marketing’s role has crept higher up the agenda. In 1993,

60% of delegates said their organisations were re-evaluating the

marketing function, but this had risen to 75% in 1997.

’Marketers have not suddenly decided to get paranoid,’ says Deborah

Parkes, project director of The Marketing Forum. ’Ever since the

recession ended, marketing has been under the spotlight. The finance

guys have waited a long time to beat them over the head.’

Rewriting the rules

In order to figure out what they should do, marketers have to understand

the forces acting upon them. As well as shifting priorities within the

company, there are also radical changes in consumer behaviour, the

combination of which has changed the marketing rule book.

This is what Tyrrell calls ’New Marketing’. He identifies a clash

between the two pillars of the profession - branding and customer

service - as the root cause of a lot of the industry’s problems,

particularly the issue of marketing becoming sidelined in the


’A large part of the reason why marketers feel beleaguered is because

all those people who were schooled and conditioned into thinking

branding is at the core of marketing now find themselves in a world

where customer service is king. Companies are so beguiled by the

possibilities of service that they have forgotten the role of

traditional, up-front branding and are often compromising their brands

at the whim of customers’ demands,’ says Tyrrell.

This service-dominated culture is something that all departments of the

company can contribute to, which results in marketing losing its grip on

controlling the customer relationship. Meanwhile, the marketing

department’s greatest strength - its understanding of the power of

branding - is seen in the boardroom as an intangible, woolly business


The board can see that service delivers results, but do brands?

The only way that this problem can be resolved is for the marketing

department to regain some of the control it has lost. This lies at the

very centre of the research conducted by The Marketing Society and The

Marketing Forum, both of which observed a declining influence of the

marketing department within the organisation.

Their findings revealed that marketers had seriously lost touch with

controlling customer contact. Only 23% of delegates at The Marketing

Forum said the marketing department was responsible for customer

service, with 77% saying it was the responsibility of other


It is clear that marketers are losing on one of the most important

battlefields of the future, and are doing precious little about it.

Mike Detsiny, director general of The Marketing Society, says there are

big prizes for getting it right. ’The most popular companies with

consumers are the great communicators, like Virgin. This level of

coherent communication can only be achieved if the marketing department

is in control. The marketing department should be setting the agenda on

how the company deals with the customer, but it has lost control of that

process and become marginalised.’

Part of the reason this has happened is that marketers seem incapable of

communicating with other departments.

Not only do they not communicate internally, but they also substantially

overestimate their performance in relation to other departments, which

in turn do not rate marketing’s contribution to the company’s


The Marketing Forum’s research found that 71% of marketers thought they

were good or excellent when it comes to ’results orientation’, but only

36% of their colleagues agreed.

When it came to overall influence on the company, 68% of marketers said

they were crucial, but only 38% of other business functions felt the

same way.

Unless marketers can persuade their own companies that what they do is

worthwhile, how are they supposed to influence and serve the


Nobody should be fooled into thinking that this is an internal issue

with no direct impact on the consumer. A marketing-oriented company is

always going to know instinctively what its customers want and know best

how to give it to them.

Opportunity knocks?

Like all management theorists, Tyrrell prefers to call this problem a

challenge. ’Twenty years ago, people would say a company existed to

create jobs. Now companies exist to serve customers. That’s a fantastic

opportunity for marketers.’

But marketers should remember the delicate balance between branding and


As well as wresting back control of customer contact, marketers need to

control how far they are prepared to take customer service before the

brand starts to be compromised.

’The new customer service ethic can’t accept that people don’t like your

product. As soon as consumers show dissatisfaction, mass customisation

kicks in and the brand is adapted to fit their needs. Service can

broaden the appeal of brands, but there are limits,’ says Tyrrell.

Once marketers have figured out how to tackle the service/branding

quandary, they will have to get stuck into the other issue changing the

direction of the profession: social responsibility.

Marketers need to understand - and make sure their companies understand

- that consumers are viewing brands in a radically different light. As

The Henley Centre’s recent Planning for Social Change study reveals,

consumers see brands as part of society and accord some brands high

levels of trust.

The survey showed big brands, such as Kellogg and Cadbury, are trusted

much more than the Church, the police and MPs (Marketing, October


Dean Sanders, ex-marketing controller at Kraft Jacobs Suchard and now

client services director at Claydon Heeley, says: ’Brands are becoming

points of social orientation; there’s a whole new contract with


The inevitable conclusion of this is that ethics and responsibility will

become, like customer service, a pillar of the New Marketing


If brands are being seen as part of society, they have to behave

responsibly and give something back to the community.

This requires marketers to think on a much more emotional and

psychological level than they are now, says Sanders, who has been

brought in to head a new ethical marketing off-shoot of Claydon


But the familiar problem facing marketers is that they are not given the

freedom and budget to develop this type of strategy. Brands that

successfully tap into this new demand for social responsibility can

become very powerful, even inspirational, but few are given the time to

do it.

Lacking the tools

As an ex-FMCG marketer, Sanders knows the frustrations well. ’There is

such a demand for efficiency and to deliver returns in the short term

that the time frame and budget are not available to allow brands

long-term success.’

This is not an issue limited to multinational corporations with dodgy

environmental records. Ethical marketing is going to play an

increasingly important role for companies of all sizes, and marketers

have to convince their colleagues of the influence it will have.

At The Marketing Forum, 80% of delegates agreed that social

responsibility will have a bigger impact on consumer expectations of

organisations, and 70% attached a positive commercial value to

responsible corporate behaviour.

Only last week, Christian Aid ranked UK supermarkets by their record of

guaranteeing decent working conditions for overseas suppliers. Tesco

topped the league, with Marks & Spencer last. Tesco and Safeway are

planning to include ’ethical trading’ in their 1998 annual reports.

While the question of who controls customer service is going to be a

knotty issue for marketers, the opportunity to ’own’ ethical marketing

is there for the taking.

This may be a way for marketing to regain some of the ground it has lost

and to position itself at the leading edge of the organisation. New

Marketing may be a buzz word now, but the world is changing and

marketers have got to change with it.

Who’s in the driving seat?

Who has responsibility for customer service?

Marketing             23.1%

Customer services     64.8%

Other department      11.7%

Does social responsibility impact on consumer expectations?

Yes                   79.8%

No                    19.5%

Source: The Marketing Forum Base: 310 client marketers