ANSWERING THE CALL FOR MARKETING LEADERSHIP

Posted by in Brand, Marketing

I read with interest Mark Choueke’s call for Marketing Leadership in this week’s Marketing Week. Mark and I have discussed this topic before and I am delighted that he is taking up a theme with which I have been concerned for a long time. However I would push even further than Mark suggests. I believe the future of marketing can be at the centre of a new approach to business that is built on balanced positive human outcomes. “Putting the human” back into business is where the leadership businesses, brands and marketers of the future will win. Trust in businesses, brands, marketing, advertising, and leadership are all at historical lows. Why? Because people increasingly see through the bullshit and double dealing, helped by our global information infrastructure (that’s the internet if you were wondering) and have a pretty good idea of where a business is coming from. For example, BP will live or die not on the column inches, commentator opinion, the price of their fuel, or even their impact on the Mexican Gulf – they will live or die on the truth: if they are a bunch of profiteers cavalierly ignoring safety then they will crumble (and good riddance), if the truth is that they were unlucky and this was an “accident waiting to happen” to any one of those companies involved with deepsea drilling then they can survive if they see this as an opportunity to put their house in order. Despite the spin, the PR, the money thrown into branding and advertising, there are fewer and fewer places to hide. Rather than a threat to marketing this is quite simply the biggest opportunity marketing has have ever faced. If we want to win back the trust that is central to our economy and a major source of competitive advantage (if you have it) then what we need to do is aim higher and be more ambitious in our thinking and scope. That is the future agenda of marketing. We have spent far too long desperately trying to prove marketing's effectiveness and obsessing about the numbers. I don't deny we need numbers and marketers need to understand the business model, often more than they do currently, but frankly business is awash with numbers and number crunching: what business needs now more than ever is to be humanised. What does that mean? Well it’s not entirely clear where this road will take us but I know it will be exciting, worthwhile and meaningful; I think it could look something like this: Marketing leads business on a mission to combine commercial imperatives with social imperatives: businesses need to make a fair return on their activities, but they also have a responsibility to drive positive social outcomes as a deliberate by-product of their activities through this they can act for the common good. This could look like banks getting together to tackle the lack of financial education, or final exclusion, or something that actually matters perhaps paid for through giving up their “ego” sponsorships of cricket, or the Olympics, or boat racing, or Formula One. Marketing leadership takes responsibility for the values of a company being a reflection of the truth of the business not some brand positioning nonsense. The reason the reputation of marketing, branding and advertising is light-weight and superficial is because many marketers, branding experts and advertising agencies are exactly this. Why is it that most brand or values statements don’t talk about making money or getting rich, or kicking the shit out of the competition, or just surviving because it’s a job but instead are full of words like quality, innovation, value, trust? It’s because the brand positioning and strategy of most companies has nothing to do with the actual business going on. BP’s aspirational “beyond petroleum” has more to do with brand pretension than their actual business. By owning the values of the corporation truly and powerfully marketing has the opportunity to be an internal driver of success rather than just the window dressing. Marketing becomes the integrator of all external outcomes of a company’s activities: from the impact of products on human beings, not just those that use those products, but all stakeholders. At the moment marketing is responsible for pushing the product or service into the hands of the buyer, in many companies that is where the responsibility stops there isn’t even a link to the delivery of the product or service. If this is the only strategic aim of marketing then marketers will only ever push more product irrespective of its impact. However the world is changing, we are at an inflexion point where selling more stuff, going for incessant growth, will be an unsustainable and immoral (and I use that word deliberately) strategy. Marketing is the best placed of all the corporate functions to do something about this and guide a business through these changes. Why? Because it is marketing that has proven its ability to understand, assess, engage and even change what people think and do. We have the tools to balance the qualitative with the quantitative, to connect and understand what people want, and marry that with the goals of business profitably. When marketing is great that is what it does time and time again. I am suggesting a broader canvas, a larger scope for these tools, techniques and talents but we should be confident that we can make the difference. I applaud Unilever for integrating marketing with sustainability under Keith Weed. These are just a few suggestions on which true marketing leadership can be constructed in the future. The bottom line is that no one knows what the future holds especially the markets, the CFO, the CEO, the board, or the consumer. What is clear is that we are facing many significant global challenges driven by the impact of human action on the world. The answer to this is not more "business as usual" but ideas, courage, and risk taking. Not risk taking for an extra 1% of margin or that unsustainable volume push, but risk taking that can say, “Let’s create a business which can make money but also tackle some of the challenges that face our world, our communities and individuals.” People who can do this deserve to be the marketing leaders of the future. What do you think? Have your say here or at Mark Choueke's article. Many of these themes are discussed on the other blog that I founded: www.conservation-economy.org If you enjoyed this post then why not consider subscribing to the blog – it's free and easy – click here Thanks Justin Mail me: justin@basini.com My website: http://www.basini.com/ Read my blog: http://www.blog.basini.com/ Follow me: www.twitter.com/justinbasini