Marketers need to communicate

A sad irony to emerge from the Marketing Forum’s epic session probing the prospects of the profession is that marketers are hopeless at communication.

While research commissioned for the event indicated that consumers respond enthusiastically, if sceptically, to what marketers do – the same cannot be said of their business colleagues or of that other important constituency, the City.

It’s bad enough that analysts and fund managers have virtually no knowledge, and still less interest, in the creative process behind successful brands; but ten times worse that this indifference, tinged with contempt is shared by the very people who are supposed to be collaborating with it inside the company. A small example gives the measure. According to the research, produced by Synesis, 68 per cent of marketers consider they are good, or excellent, at strategic thinking – an opinion shared by only 34 per cent of their colleagues in the finance, IT, production, sales and human resources departments of the company.

To the credit of the industry, however, it has taken a first step in challenging this unsavoury reality by facing up to it. There are many reasons why the status of marketing is lowly compared with that of other professions, but arrogant self-delusion should not be one of them.

As a matter of fact, the very word ‘profession’ gives an important insight into the structural prejudices facing the marketer. Is marketing really a profession? Of course, it is dignified with professional bodies such as the Marketing Council, the Marketing Society and the Chartered Institute of Marketing, which create a kind of esprit de corps. But the fact that marketing is not a closed professional skill, guarded by arduous mandatory qualifications, weakens both its external perception and its bargaining power in the boardroom. If anyone can do it, why should we value it so highly? And why should we use valuable resources training people to do it better?

Worse, the relatively weak status of marketing has been compounded by fashionable ‘pan-company’ marketing. This starts with the not unreasonable premise that everyone in the company, from production director to the doorman, should be aware of the importance of serving the customer. Unfortunately, it also engenders a misguided perception that marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department and that every Tom, Dick and Harry (in the boardroom, at least) can become a bit of an expert.

For all that, it remains astonishing that the most creative and strategically important business skill can be regarded in this lowly light. The Marketing Forum was surely right to highlight marketing’s dilemma, although it is a pity that the research was revealed at the end, rather than the beginning, of the conference. Which would have allowed a fuller and more productive discussion over the two days of the conference.

News, page 7; Alan Mitchell, page 28

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