Hammer in the nails, marketing has died

Marketing frayed, and died. What’s left is a Marketing Function, but the Marketing Role is dead and gone forever.

Marketing as a role has died. Let’s hammer the nails into the coffin, bury the body, and go get drunk together.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines ‘marketing’ as:

…the total process whereby goods and services are put on to the market, usually encompassing market research, advertising and promotion.


It is, however, an out-dated definition because it isn’t wholistic enough. Google defines it as the above plus selling, and that’s much more accurate, if incomplete.

Here is a real definition:

Marketing is the total process of putting goods and services into the market, selling them, and servicing them, to achieve the purpose of the business.

Or, to put it in a theoretical, academic way, it is ‘the study and management of exchange relationships’. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

The trouble is, folk have been writing about a wholistic view of marketing for nearly 30 years

In 1991, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled Marketing is Everything. In it, the author argued that the ’90s were going to be the age of the customer. It argued that ‘several decades ago’ companies were sales-driven, which was defined as changing people’s minds in order to fit them to existing product. It presented the notion that marketing will shape the way companies do business.

It sounds great, doesn’t it?

Why then, if marketing was going to be this incredible promised land, did the same journal publish a piece in 2017 that was trying to understand the trouble with Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and why so many top executives fail when they sit in that seat? One of the key results of that parcel of work was a realisation that CMOs will never affect the business at the scale that they need to, that CEOs fundamentally misunderstand what the role requires; that the roles are poorly designed.

One of the reasons why, so argues the author of The Trouble with CMOs is because marketing changes the relationship with the customer. Changing that relationship is expensive because it also changes product, and it means shifting the entire ship, as it were.

If the CMO changes the customer relationship, the product, and the direction, who’s actually in charge?

Isn’t that the CEO’s job?

Apparently, yes. According to one study published by the same journal in the same year as the CMO piece, successful CEOs make changes decisively, make sure the organisation is adaptable over the long term.

Although, in the same year, another author argued that no matter where you are in the organisation, every role is facing ‘where to play/how to win’ choices. That, by definition, includes the CMO.

I’m wondering, therefore, if marketing is to shift the business, who is that guy standing around with a laminate of the organisational strategy and banging on about it?

Marketers often don’t have the power to make systemic change, or the sign-off capability to do so, which is partly why few CMOs last more than three years in their roles.

Could it be, then, that there’s too much tension between the idea of the thinker and the idea of the executor? Is the CEO thinking about things and the CMO executing on it?

Or is the CMO’s job really just to be a conduit to the right information about market position, customers, product performance, and so on?

If you believe HBR‘s writers, who argue that the CEO’s role is really about managing information flows, then the answer is yes.

To address the paradox, you need to look at function, not role

One of the great challenges in marketing is that it is a push-pull role viewed as being separate from other critical roles.

Marketing is effectively a function of pushing messages out and making them visible, and drawing people in so that sales and service can occur. In many organisations it’s still a role, kept separate from ‘sales’, and kept separate from customer service.

Yet, in my own company, if I am faced with a marketer who couldn’t go out and handle selling, or sit on the phone for an hour inside a difficult customer conversation, that marketer doesn’t get a job.

When an organisation is completely aligned, then a senior marketing role can function as a conduit to the right information for the CEO, as HBR argues is necessary.

Without that alignment, marketing stops being functional. It’s just a role and it doesn’t (can’t, won’t) achieve a CEO’s imagined outcomes.

Therefore, even though Harvard Business Review argued in 1991 that the successful companies will be customer-driven and responsive, this protest – ‘We need to be customer-centric! When do we want it? Now!’ – is still being chanted in 2019.

Does this mean that there’s been very little movement at the station over the past 30 years?

Yes, and no. What many industries have seen in the past 30 years is increasing fragmentation.

While you may have seen an increasing awareness of the idea that ‘marketing is everything’, you may also have noticed something else. Under what is legitimately a marketing umbrella, there has been increasing fragmentation and industry infighting.

I see much of it, as a content professional. There is a sense that communicating with customers is not marketing or sales; which indicates a lack of understanding at the function level. Content people ARE under the marketing umbrella, and you need to suck it up, please. So do UX people, and CX people, and yes, even sales people.

You only have to do a quick search on Twitter to discover how much of this infighting has been going on, and for how long:

Every argument is singular, siloed, and divorced from the overall purpose of an organisation and its communication role. The role of any communication – whether it is for visibility, or ‘meeting customer needs’ (which is the same thing as ‘sales’, by the way) – is to create value, to turn into sales, to turn into more sales.

Now, something has happened of late.

Those in different roles, talking about putting things in front of a customer or prospect fought tooth-and-nail for a few years about who is a marketer (pushing/pulling), and who is in helping customers (service). Thus, in the background, both Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX) started rise and rise.

With them, an increasing level of confusion about what everyone is doing. So much so, that people are now writing about the boundary:

You’ll notice that there is now:

  • marketing
  • advertising
  • content strategy (as a defined function)
  • customer experience
  • user experience
  • product design
  • service design
  • … etc

And yet, if we go right back to where we started, all of this comes under marketing. The very definition of marketing is the ‘total process…’.

The fragmentation has obscured the truth of why businesses exist

One of the challenges with how the functions have splintered and continue to fragment, is that both tools and customer expectations have changed rapidly over the last 30 years.

Everyone in a business, from sales and business development to marketing and customer service, has been flapping around trying to pin down what it is that’s going to make the organisation successful.

The fundamentals haven’t changed. They are:

  1. Create something of value to others
  2. Make sure they know about it
  3. Sell it for more than it takes to create/deliver it
  4. Add more value by servicing your buyers properly (which loops you back to #1).

Don’t believe me? Go listen to The Personal MBA (this amazing education is free, in audio. No that’s not an affiliate link.).

Fragmentation doesn’t help to drive the coherence that marketing functions desperately require

Fragmentation and infighting is not only unhelpful to organisations, it stops the effective creation of coherent companies.

It distracts everybody in a business from furthering the purpose, mission and vision of a company, and it distracts from the most important thing of all: Sales and service.

Even if you disagree that sales is the most important thing in a company, I’d like to see you run one without them. Sales allow your company to exist, and you to be employed.

Number one, cash is king…

Number two, communicate…

Number three, buy or bury the competition

Jack Welch

What, then, is the solution?

Far be it from me to propose a solution to such a systemic problem. As one writer, I can’t get close to offering something that (a) has been explored lightly here; and (b) has so many moving parts.

Marketing, as a role, has died. There is no marketing role. There is a marketing function, comprised of many smaller parts.

My challenge to you, then, is this: Have just one ‘marketing’ role. That one role is to ensure that a complete picture of this function is provided to the CEO as possible. Everyone else takes action within the function. There is no longer a ‘marketer’, especially in a customer-centric business

Your challenge is to stop giving lip-service to customer centricity, and instead to make it your mission to become coherent. It’s in facing total coherence that you will be required to solve the problems of both fragmentation and in-fighting (the former probably exists in your business; the latter hopefully not!). Here’s why: Coherence becomes culture.

In your quest to become actually customer-centric, your coherence may suggest all kinds of crazy things to you, like putting marketing people out on a sales beat, and customer service people inside your marketing teams. Whatever it takes to cross-pollinate your business internally, you will do.

If you take me up on this challenge, contact me and keep me up to speed with how you go.

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