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customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Mar 20 2016

Marketing ain’t no noun

"To the companies and boards who are winding down the marketing function whilst ramping up the digital and data units, be careful. You are confusing what marketing is about with the tools, channels and feedback loops to do it."

David Wheldon, President of the World Federation of Advertisers, couldn’t have been blunter in his warning shot to those brands dead-set on replacing marketing resource with digital tools and advertising platforms. In a scathing address at the recent ISBO conference, the RBS Group CMO said that those companies who do this are forgetting to build a distinctive brand and failing to understand the customer.

I couldn’t agree more; this ‘shoot the marketer’ trend has already backfired on some well-known brands and will prove very costly for others in the future, especially if the perception of the role of marketing continues to get narrower. Leading brands have long-since understood that marketing should embrace everything a brand does; yet some blinkered boards still see it as a noun that belongs to a specific function and describes a set of processes. This view is so archaic it’s bordering on Neanderthal.

Purposeful brands believe marketing is a verb, not a noun, which describes everything that the brand does and the way in which it does it. They see it as something that inspires everyone in an organisation to work in a way that benefits the brand purpose and delivers real value to customers. Marketing is as much about engaging your internal audience as your external one. As Wheldon goes on to say: ‘The first audience a marketeer has got to impact is the internal one….. Marketing must get itself hard-wired into the belief system and behaviours of the business.”

Great marketing is driven by a clear sense of purpose and not by the latest fads or technology

Some CEOs, however, have been unable to resist the shiny digital toys that promise greater reach for less cost and have subsequently replaced marketing innovation with the tools that should have been used to SUPPORT marketing innovation. And as the strategic is substituted for the superficial, the overarching question that should anchor every business to the marketplace is lost - what you are communicating and why should anyone care? Without this question keeping marketing on its toes, your business becomes just another digital billboard in an unending shouting competition.

No more is this evident than in the growth of intrusive online advertising. “The rules of marketing have changed”, says the latest article, and in a panic, the e-commerce director moves budgets around to flood the web with ads and content that track customers and border on being intrusive, irrelevant or inappropriate. But the reality is, as Wheldon succinctly puts it:-

“Once you think the definition of marketing has changed you are already on the way to killing it”.

The rules of marketing, and the importance of its holistic nature, have not changed, and they never will. The truth is that brands that use technology to reinforce their purpose and not just their product will always be ahead of those brands that have ditched purposeful marketing for a parking space on Facebook.

Before David Wheldon tore a strip off VW in his address, for forgetting their brand purpose altogether, he said that “Amazon, Tesla and Netflix are eating many of the established brands for lunch in the area of defining why they exist and where they see their business going”. I’d throw a few more brands into this mix, brands like Patagonia, giffgaff and Burberry.

Without a purpose-led marketing perspective that affects every department including HR (because they have responsibility for finding people to deliver the promise), I can see why some brand leaders are tempted to axe their people to invest in digital ‘solutions’. Web ads, content and social media are now without doubt integral tools of the marketing trade…but they are not the craft itself and never will be. At the end of the day, great marketing is when creative marketing people really engage with customers to tell the brand story regardless of the channel.