marketing myopia

I’ve been mulling over a debate for the past few weeks and haven’t been able to resolve it, so I thought I’d share it here and get your input.undecided

The issue is whether marketers should try to increase the marketing function in the organization or whether they should try to increase the marketing capability of the entire organization.  The debate was prompted by an op-ed written by Larry Light, marketing guru and former McDonald’s CMO, in Forbes a few weeks ago.

Larry’s piece, entitled “Marketing Is Being Devalued,” argues that marketing “needs to assert its rightful role making it the central force of brand-business management.”  Larry outlines the 5 reasons he believes marketing is not fulfilling its business management role, including lack of organizational alignment, a trust deficit, and a measurement mindset which stifles marketing.

He warns, “Marketing as we know it will continue to decline unless we move to reform marketing and transform the CMO from a marketing communications leader to a brand-business leader.

At first blush, I couldn’t agree with Larry more.  I share his concern about marketing being a short-term, tactics-based function.  Marketing is so much more than ad campaigns and taglines. I even recently penned a piece for my new Brand New Perspectives column in QSR Magazine about the expansive, impactful role that the most effective CMOs play. Particularly in these times when companies are focusing on growing the topline, marketing should be the engine which drives new growth.

But upon further reflection, I realize that making the marketing role more important may not be the answer.  Perhaps the goal shouldn’t be to elevate the marketing function within companies, but rather to make marketing the function of companies.

That is, perhaps companies should organize their people, build systems and processes, align resources and prioritize, and build capability throughout the organization so that the entire enterprise executes the marketing role.  I believe this is what Peter Drucker was referring to in his famous quote, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation…Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.

Many of you know that I advocate for the “brand-as-business (TM)” management approach. “Brand-as-business” involves the deliberate and systematic management of the business around the brand.  It impacts all business functions – from generating insights, to making planning decisions, and to facilitating operational excellence.  As such, “brand-as-business” is not a marketing undertaking; it’s a business model led by the top executives and executed by everyone in the organization.

When I speak to marketing folks about “brand-as-business,” I tell them that it’s not enough for the marketing department to “get it.” It requires everyone in the organization to shift their identity from their traditional job description, instead thinking of themselves as operators of the brand, who develop, maintain, and activate the brand across all of their activities.

So marketing shouldn’t be vying for bigger budgets for marketing and bigger jobs or titles.  Their goal should be a brand-as-business organization and their job is to find ways to convey the importance of brand to every person in the company – to persuade them to adopt brand-as-business.

I think this way of thinking applies to the marketing function in general.  Take customer insights.  It’s counter-productive for an elite few to claim ownership of customer understanding.  Likewise identifying creative ways to engage customers may indeed be marketing’s bailiwick but unless the ideas are are co-developed with other functional areas, operational considerations will be overlooked and their viability, unlikely.  The understanding of customers, the development of value propositions, and the broad application of brand values must be aligned and integrated throughout the organization.

Larry Light argues that

  • the CMO is responsible for building and managing the brand-business plan,
  • the CMO is the voice of the customer, whether a BTB customer or a consumer.
  • the CMO is the customer advocate.
  • the CMO must lead the effort to drive true customer-insight focused innovation.
  • the CMO should lead the effort to break down organizational silos.

And a side of me wants to stand up and shout “amen!”  But I wonder, shouldn’t everyone in the organization be doing these things?  Shouldn’t everyone seek to better understand customers and advocate for doing what’s best for them?  Shouldn’t everyone work together to develop innovations based on customer insights?  Shouldn’t everyone tear down silos and contribute to building the brand?

This is not to say that there’s no need for a marketing department or that marketing doesn’t play an important role in an organization.  Marketing establishes and cultivates the critical conduit with the “outside world” – communicating and delivering brand value from the inside out and gathering insights and sourcing tools and resources to bring inside for the entire organization to use.   Depending on which way you look at it, either this sounds like the functional expertise and value of marketing is diminished; or it paints a bigger vision for marketing.

So, what do you think?  Should we be concerned that marketing is being devalued?  Or should we be excited about making marketing something everyone in the organization does?  Please share your thoughts!

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  • Craig H

    I’m a firm believer in making the marketing pervasive in an organization! It only helps spread the message and reinforce the benefits of buying a product if everyone who comes in contact with the company gets a similar feeling.

    I’ve also always loved that Drucker quote in particular. I believe that businesses must administer themselves well in order to successfully retain profits, but the key word to me is “retain.” Administration of business is about retaining cash flows that are created by the company – through innovation and marketing (convincing people to pay for the innovation!). You can’t retain profits if you don’t have revenues, and the more committed to the company ALL of its people are, the more chances for the message to get out to customers.

    I think that too much time and energy gets devoted to administration of a business because, well, its hard. I think the problems of the administration can often drive time and energy allocations away from things that create revenues, and its up to management to keep the focus in the right place. I think management has a role to create a belief for all employees about their company that makes them want to “sell” their company from all angles.

    (That’s the holy grail of course – when people see the brand as the business… but I digress…)

    I think companies who get this right will be more successful at generating and sustaining revenues with stronger margins, allowing for greater possible profits to retain!

    Companies that “live their brand” come to mind – Google, Apple, Gore, Lululemon all come to mind as examples.

  • “brand-as-business” has to be driven at the top in order to work, not by marketing.

    Marketers see the future of their contribution being jeopardized, squeezed between Executive Management slashing budgets and customers much more vocal and opinionated about “owning” the brands they care about.

    As a recovering marketer, my sense is that the marketing function probably has a very bright future but it needs to be fundamentally redefined. Successful marketers won’t be defining the brand they represent but rather make themselves an indispensable resource to fans and brand advocates who will be the ones shaping the brand and probably products/services.

    Twitter, Harley Davidson, Trader Joe’s are some very interesting examples of fans taking over brands and very skillful marketers trading control for greater brand equity.

    Food for thought…

  • Craig H

    I totally agree with you – In fact its funny – my post above was the 2nd time I posted to the site – a freak internet accident made my first one disappear, and I didn’t get it all in there the 2nd time around.

    I made a reference in my first posting to the book “the shift” which I think nicely details exactly the problem you’re talking about, and that this may be a critical moment in business management history for CMOs to get into the fray at the top level. Marketing needs to be at the very top of the organization. Without marketing as part of the senior leadership, then the brand as the business has too many risks to be shot down from an exec management perspective.

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