What does the future hold for marketing? I suggest the perception of marketing has fundamentally changed over the past twenty years and that is not good news for the future of the marketing profession.

That said, this is not a marketing is dead post, far from it. Marketing, when properly defined, is just as important to company profitability as it ever was. I argue the functions of marketing will not disappear, but the future of marketing as an integrated profession looks bleak.

Marketing has struggled to define itself. It has failed to gain control of the buttons it must press to make a difference. Crucially, it has failed to persuade corporate management it delivers value and is deserving of the support it needs.

Does Marketing Deliver Value?

If we take a step back, it should be possible to answer the value question from first principles.

We defined marketing elsewhere on this blog. Let’s take just one (my preferred) definition – “Marketing is a process for defining markets, quantifying the needs of the customer groups (segments) within these markets; determining the value propositions to meet these needs; communicating these value propositions to all those people within the organisation responsible for delivering them and getting their buy into their role; playing an appropriate part in delivering these value propositions to the chosen market segments and monitoring the actual value delivered.” (Malcolm McDonald)

If a business is not ‘identifying and understanding customer needs and coming up with solutions that satisfy customers and produce profit for the stakeholders’ (Philip Kotler), then what is it doing?

At this point, we could lurch into a review of the many articles on the value of marketing to an organisation, but the above should be enough. A business must deliver value to its customers. Or, at least, do a better job of delivering value than competitors. No customers equals no business.

So marketing is (level1)

  • Defining markets and needs.
  • Defining the value proposition to meet those needs.
  • Obtaining buy-in and support to deliver that proposition.
  • Monitoring results.

At level 2 (value proposition) it is the 4P’s – Product price, promotion, place.

In reality, which elements of the above is the marketing department responsible for? How is their contribution measured? That is a key issue discussed below.

Note, the focus of the following discussion is the vast majority of businesses in B2B markets (those with less than 250 employees) that, in the UK, generate a little over 50% of total private business turnover. The situation in larger businesses may be different.

Markets, Needs And Value Proposition

So, if not marketing, then who is in control of directing the business to achieve its aims?

There are many examples of a business founder (perhaps an engineer) spotting a gap in the market. They defined a customer need and developed a product to meet that need. Sometimes they became synonymous with the company and offer (brand?). ​Over time, they figured out how to provide simple and elegant solutions to sometimes complex customer problems.

They decided how to reach out to the market and make them aware of the offering. They understood the market need, the price the market would accept, production issues and distribution.

Was Lee Iacocca a business leader or a marketer? What about Henry Ford, Steve Jobs or Alan Sugar? I suggest these business leaders were, in fact, the marketers.

The corporate strategy looks into the future and covers mission, business structure and responsibilities. It also defines overall goals and timescales and the key business numbers.

The business goals are ultimately defined by the business owners, possibly including the founder, and their most senior managers/directors. To simplify, marketing objectives flow down from these goals and marketing strategy is the method used to achieve those objectives.

The logical place to start, with a marketing strategy is with the market and consumer.
In the above example, if the business founder is still active, then they are likely to drive strategy. Marketing may have an input and could carry out the bulk of the important analysis work on which the strategy is built, but the founder is in control.

Has marketing defined markets and needs? I suggest in many cases no, best case their market analysis and feedback might influence the decisions. Has marketing defined the value proposition? Again, I suggest, often no.

Now, let’s assume a CMO is recruited into a company where the founder is long gone. Now do they have full authority and responsibility for marketing as defined above. Again, I suggest not as they move into a business with long established organisational structure and markets. Do they have the influence to drive through change? That’s what I turn to next.

Marketing Influence & Control

The key is who defines markets, needs and value propositions. In theory, if marketing is in control, they deserve a seat at the top table and the influence that comes with it. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. If marketing does not have a seat at the top table, it will always be a struggle for support.

If top-level market definitions, needs and value propositions are defined elsewhere, they have the most influence over what gets done. Marketing is a support function that sits alongside many other business functions. Its influence is limited and, therefore, its ability to drive through change. It is down to the entire organisation to deliver, and company culture is critical.

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit – Why Good Strategies Fail Report, respondents say the number one reason for the success of strategic initiatives at their organisation is leadership buy-in and support.

Value Proposition And The 4P’s

Managing the 4P’s and/or the 4A’s as defined by Jagish Seth is a big ask. Marketing has already failed to live up to those lofty aims. From A Cross-National Investigation into the Marketing Department’s Influence Within the Firm -Journal of International Marketing (Volume 19(3) 2011 “Decisions in areas such as pricing, customer service, product development and distribution are not (my emphasis) dominated by marketing’ – that’s 3 of the 4P’s.

Based on the above discussion and a lack of influence, that is no great surprise. Perhaps marketing has created many of its challenges. However unfair it may be, the perception of marketing as the ‘arts and craft department’ persists. There are various types of marketers working in a wide range of businesses, but most suffer from a reputation problem.

The Sales And Marketing Conflict

If we refer back to the definitions of marketing, defining consumer needs is a key element. Who is closest to the consumer? In B2B markets, that would almost certainly be sales. In B2C markets, it could be one of the many links in the supply chain.

Sales may claim (with justification) that they are closest to the customer. It is they, not marketing, who understand the customers’ needs. Marketing can argue in return, that it is they who have the skills to take a long-term view. They can group and classify needs and understand what is required to satisfy those needs. Their argument may be that sales focus (rightly so) is short term whereas marketing is more focused on the future.

The sales vs marketing relationship debate has been ongoing for decades and, in many organisations, remains unresolved. In truth sales and marketing are squabbling over the scraps. It is whoever controls strategy who is in control. However, if marketing loses a deep understanding of the marketplace or access to that marketplace, then what is left?

A Saviour (or is it?)

A saviour has ridden into town and his name is technology. Analytics show exactly how many prospects are engaging. They show touch points on the way to a sale and interest at various points in the sales cycle.

Now marketing can point to something measurable. That might be impressions, clicks or one of a host of other data points.

Messages can be crafted to match prospects (perceived) needs. Brand messages can pop up wherever prospects may go online.

Marketing may claim they have regained the power to understand and interact with the consumer and they can do it at scale. They don’t need sales feedback on what is happening in the market. It is in their data.

A justifiable response to a point, but the multichannel opportunities to reach consumers bring with them a significant level of complexity. A mass of potential touch-points brings with it a mass of data. There is a significant problem with attribution, that is identifying which touch-point was relevant and which was not.

Worse still, a mass of data brings on data blindness. Like snow blindness, it prevents you from seeing what is right in front of you. Does a mass of data really help in identifying customer core needs?

One of the biggest issues for marketing in larger organisations has become how to manage the so-called marketing stack. Mark Schaefer in his book Marketing Rebellion said ‘Marketers are overwhelmed by data. Nearly 60% believe they cannot keep up with the technology overload’.

There is a strong argument for measuring marketing ROI. Without solid marketing metrics, how can marketing expect to be taken seriously at the top levels of the organisation? Perhaps marketing last hope was to deliver the numbers.

Metrics that are relevant to the senior management team and business operations. Unfortunately, if marketing is on the margins of the organisation, then all it has to report on is its marginal impact.

Assessing The Future Of Marketing

So, if marketing has lost its responsibility for strategy, it has lost high-level support for its initiatives and it has little influence on product or price, then what’s left? There is awareness building and engagement and there is the brand protection and maintenance.

Channel management will often fall under sales. Customer experience and customer retention are also important. Each of these areas adds value, but none (except brand) are at the core of the business.

Brand, when managed correctly, can be a powerful tool to distinguish a business from its competitors. Where does brand come from? Is it from the founder (see above strategy discussion)? Or is it crafted by marketing around an established core?

A successful brand must, on one hand, reflect the corporate values, but on the other, it must be based on an intimate understanding of the consumer and their needs. It defines who is a customer and who is not. It offers a promise. Brand maintenance is one area where marketing does have a future.

Somebody needs to establish, protect and promote the brand. The brand must flow through company communications and that includes promotional activities.

Given a broad definition of markets, needs and value propositions and a (often fractious) relationship with sales, there remains a role for someone to define specific audiences and segments. The last of the 4Ps, promotional activities, has to be delivered.

One Possible Future For Marketing Operations

Assume a future where marketing as a discrete discipline did not exist. Let’s take its constituent parts and allocate them to other business departments.

First, the most difficult – Strategy – There is the business strategy and marketing strategy. If the business founder is still involved (and still inclined) then I suggest both belong with him/her. If the founder is not involved, it becomes much more difficult. Perhaps a strategy department is the best way forward.

Someone needs to define a message and ensure that message remains consistent across all channels. They need to ensure the message fits with the brand. They need to manage consistent internal messaging. That person (or team) could be defined as a Chief Communications Officer.

Strong leadership is required to define and maintain sales focus, but that is a higher management role, not marketing. There is always a conflict between long-term organisational goals and short-term sales goals. It takes leadership to remain focused on the overall picture rather than jump from the latest crisis/pending major order to the next.

Assuming appropriate sales leadership and focus are in place, then lead generating activities, including Email, Website (and SEO), Advertising (including online), content and more, can fall under sales control. Again, messaging controlled by the CCO.

Creative disciplines (design, video, audio) have no natural home. They could be a separate department allied to sales or operations. They could fall under sales control, or they could be outsourced.

Customer service, customer experience and customer retention also probably belong to the sales department. Many of these functions could also sit under operations. The IT department could be responsible for website technology and the technical elements of SEO, with relevant input from sales.

Analytics and data analysis could sit under sales or operations. It could also sit under the accountancy function. The strategy department (if one exists) or senior management would define data requirements and interpret that data.

None of the above is positive for marketing as a discrete discipline. Job titles, including the term marketing may disappear in future, but marketing itself (as defined above) must remain. Marketing as a discrete discipline may disappear, but the functions of marketing have a future. Those functional elements of marketing will simply be dissipated under various business departments.

I suggest a CMO has lost influence (if it ever existed) over defining markets and needs, defining the value proposition to meet those needs and obtaining buy-in and support to deliver that proposition. They have little influence over product and price. Hence, they are left with brand and promotion.

If marketing has little influence on strategy and is unable to influence change, then it is a support function. As such, in future, it is vulnerable to being broken up into constituent parts. There is a need for an expanded Chief Communications Officer role but as a discrete position with senior management influence.

This new CCO does not need their own department or team. They are the (senior) person who understands the essence of the business, develops messaging and ensures that the message is communicated consistently internally and externally to prospects, customers and stakeholders.

Read our free guide  – The Future Of The Marketing Organisation HERE

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