Marketing departments need to reinvent themselves, or become obsolete


The “4 P’s of Marketing” – long seen as one of the cornerstones of marketing theory, and pushed enthusiastically in marketing textbooks and by marketing lecturers when I was a student. Perhaps that is still happening. The premise was simple, the 4 P’s stood for Product, Place, Price and Promotion. The theory taught that marketing in the real world has a direct influence (dare we say control) over these four areas.

To refresh, in the context of a simple product, this means that in theory, marketing is the primary decision maker in the characteristics of the product, the product’s price, where the product is sold, and how the product is advertised.

When I think of the 4 P’s now, after well over a decade in the front lines of marketing, I smile. It’s a great example of how education and reality of industry are out of sync. In this case, very out of sync.

I’d be willing to bet the following points are true of at least 90% of marketing managers and brand managers out there:

  1. They’ve never really had a say in product development, what products to produce or what to amend with products. What they get given is what they get given – their job is to “Go get it out there, dammit”.
  2. They’ve only been fleetingly involved in pricing. This remains the realm of the finance guys. The closest they’ve got is researching competitors and sending through suggestions, only to see finance make the final call based on cost of sale and revenue projections. This often makes them wonder why they’d gone through the efforts and sent through lengthy thoughts on pricing strategy in the first place.
  3. They are very rarely consulted on where a product is sold or where an outlet is opened. Never part of actual decision making though. Location of physical outlets, how a product is sold, or where a product is sold is very much the domain of top management, usually the very top.

So this leaves us as what? One last P. Merely the promoters of a brand? The guys who manage the creative and advertising element, and nothing else? Yes, this has become a sad reality. I’ve even read about marketing referred to as ‘The Colouring-In Department’ in certain articles and books, in a tongue-in-cheek way. The fact that senior management don’t always fully understand the vast breadth of what marketing should entail is partially to blame, but we also have ourselves to blame to an extent.

From what I’ve seen from my marketing manager peers and contemporaries through the years, there’s a certain amount of apathy involved. They generally don’t do research. It only gets done if the agency pushes it. They don’t give their agencies any particularly interesting info – the agency tries to do it for them. They’re all about short term tactics rather than long term strategy. Their day to day job revolves around advertising the brand, and nothing else. And everyone thinks this is fine.

The fact that marketing is nowadays solely focused on only one P, Promotion, is problematic for more than one reason. Firstly, it ignores everything that goes before promotion. Secondly, and more ominously, the promotion element is now largely the realm of creative agencies anyway. Marketing’s role is reduced to briefing, proofing and project management. Any fool can brief an agency if they’re given the tools and template. CEO’s can easily sign off creative (and this tends to happen anyway, unfortunately). So here lies the danger – that marketing as a function within the organisation could become obsolete . . .  if it doesn’t reinvent itself.

If marketing is to survive, it needs to position itself as the brains of an organization, as strange as that may sound. When I say survive, I mean continue to exist in the form of departments within companies instead of being seen primarily as the creative element, eventually outsourced to agencies anyway.

Everything starts with insights and understanding a problem first – not just in the marketing space, but throughout the organisation. This should be marketing’s role. For example:

  • There’s disengagement with staff? Marketing should uncover the problems and find operational and tactical solutions to tackle the problem.
  • Customer satisfaction is lower than it should be? Marketing needs to conduct significant research in the user journey to uncover the product and service issues, and make suggestions. (Preferably do customer satisfaction research in the first place)
  • Sales conversions are lower than they should be? Marketing need to look at all the touchpoints of the process, as well as the pricing, and advise what’s lacking or what needs adjustment.
  • Profit levels are down? Marketing need to analyse the business model from a customer point of view in order to remove the obsolete parts, or where greater streamlining or efficiencies could occur.

A lot of the above isn’t traditional marketing. However, it’s all research based, insights gathering and information generation. This is where the marketing function within an organization needs to move towards. The smooth, big talkers need to be replaced by the nerds. The broadcasters need to be replaced by the observers.  Marketing departments therefore need to move to a point of being viewed more as Research and Insights Departments. The agency partners need to then exist solely to implement the recommendations from the research and insights gathered.

Marketing needs to up its game within an organisation. It’s not enough that we’re the creative outlet. If we carry on this way we’ll become obsolete – or the realm of soulless project management. We need to be the foundation of decision making and strategy within the entire organization.

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