Is marketing still alive?

"Marketing is dead!" Makes you sit up and take notice, doesn't it? I guess that was exactly the reaction that Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide was aiming for when he addressed The IoD's Annual Conference last week. If you missed his speech, here's a short summary.

Kevin clearly has an adman's instinctive understanding of what makes for a grabbing headline. His hook was cleverly designed to cause a stir, and as an ex client for many years with Gillette, P&G and Pepsi he knows what he's talking about. Yet, after 15 years on the agency side is he underplaying the harsh operational realities of organisations struggling to manage tight resources in our unforgiving recessionary world?

Growth has never been more vital

Much that he says is right, albeit expressed in powerful, edgy language (his preferred style as he claims in his own blog). He recognises that a focus on growth has never been more vital: "To win today we all need to power things up and speed things up." The current French Presidential elections and the challenge to Europe being made by François Hollande also tends to this philosophy. There is clearly a limit to the extent to which costs can be cut and of course, ultimately, ideas and imagination need to open up the opportunities for growth in markets, products, brands and services.

Yet in Kevin's understandable desire to cause a stir and make an impact, let's not risk throwing the strategy baby out with the creativity bath water.

Admittedly, far too much time is spent on strategy and not enough on operational excellence - but that's always been an easy mistake for unwary marketers and their agencies to fall into. That doesn't mean that everything in the current world of marketing is defunct. A huge amount of valuable expertise and best practice principles have been built up over many years which it would be foolhardy to totally ignore. There are also huge risks for any organisation that operates with a knee jerk, chaotic chasing of multiple, small and fragmented ideas in a "free for all".

The vital role of strategy

Every business needs a coherent strategy... to focus its management time, effort and resource, to ensure a coherent understanding of the competitive context – albeit a rapidly changing one. I agree that 'bad' strategy as defined by Richard Rumelt (Good Strategy, Bad Strategy – Profile Books) can be a straightjacket, but 'good' strategy will inspire, not constrain, creativity while ensuring it has direction and impact. Great creativity is not at odds with outstanding management practice. Anything but. Great ideas have always been at the heart of successful brands and businesses – big or small. And dreams – though critical and powerful - are only one part of the 'Future-Engage-Deliver' leadership philosophy as enshrined by Steve Radcliffe. The engagement of the organisation outside the marketing function to ensure brand promises are delivered and sustainable customer value is created is a vital part of the contemporary marketing role.

Marketing isn't dead. It's more important than ever

In The Growth Drivers, my co-author Andy Bird and I would agree with Kevin in many respects and particularly insofar as ejecting outdated notions of the role of Marketing as being restricted to communications or promotions. But the reality of creating sustainable shareholder value in today's economic climate is tough. In our view marketers need their capabilities to be revitalised and reawakened to make them fit for the challenges they face – they don't need to be killed off altogether!

Speed and velocity are indeed fundamental to competing in today's 24/7 society. But in the new world that marketers and their agencies are now operating in, it's also possible to screw things up monumentally fast. So let's not kill off strategy and marketing just yet – they might just be the difference between the winning brands and the busy brands that go nowhere fast!

Photo credit: Kathryn Choi © Institute of Directors 2012


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s marketing capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @MhairiMcEwan. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Marketing Capability.

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