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
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.
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
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
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?
Customer services 64.8%
Other department 11.7%
Does social responsibility impact on consumer expectations?
Source: The Marketing Forum Base: 310 client marketers