Marketers must go on the attack

Marketers are under attack, and need to fight back according to an updated version of the classic book Offensive Marketing by Hugh Davidson. But first, they must attempt to get their own house in to better order. Alan Mitchell looks at the cha

Wanted: a new word for marketing. Hot on the heels of the latest bout of agonising about marketing’s low status in the corporate pecking order comes a call for marketers to get their house in order and go onto the offensive.

Hugh Davidson wrote his version of the marketing classic Offensive Marketing 25 years and his updated, rewritten version goes on sale this week. It reads more like a manifesto than a business book. “Marketing and marketers are under attack,” he declares in his first, blunt sentence, following it with a 580 page treatise on how marketers can fight back by proving that marketing does make companies zing.

The future lies with marketers, Davidson insists. They “have never had a bigger opportunity to realise their full potential”. But a lot is going to have to change before they do so – as his stinging rebukes of marketers and marketing departments show.

What passes for marketing in all but a ” handful” of companies is “sluggish” and “specialised”, he declares. “Misguided” and “passive” marketing departments, far from acting “as the touchstone to innovation and enterprise”, behave like “bureaucracies, spewing paper”. And most companies that claim to be marketing-oriented “make aggressive noises but continue to run on the spot, seeking, like slimmers, magic short-term cures which require little effort, and consistently overstate their real state of health”.

Marketers themselves are not much better, he declares. They understand the basics of what they should be doing, but they lack “the qualities of courage, determination, persistence and risk-taking” to actually carry it through.

He even pens five vicious portraits of common types of marketing misfit, who sabotage the implementation of real, offensive marketing – which he defines as “involving every employee in building superior customer value very efficiently for above-average profits”.

These misfits are markeaucrats, who are basically risk-averse administrators; new Luddites, who view production as an inferior form of activity in some way opposed to marketing; egotistical types more interested in their status and bonus than a strong future for their companies; milkers, who see their commitment to the brand as short term and act accordingly; and galloping midgets – “almost invariably” inexperienced young males who think the business is there to service them rather than the other way round.

Yet, for all that, marketing is in a strong position, he insists. For a start, no company can go far wrong if it imbibes – and practises – nine “unanswerable, enduring truths” about it. Test them for yourself.

They are:

1) superior customer value is essential to corporate survival and success;

2) superior or above-average profit growth is achieved by aligning strengths to opportunities, and by excellent cost management;

3) everyone is a marketer and should think like one (service marketers seem to be leading the way here, Davidson notes. They “often seem to be closer to their customers than product marketers”);

4) quality is free;

5) closeness to customers is a key factor for success in any business;

6) differentiation, enhanced by strong brands, builds sustained competitive advantage;

7) investment in strong and relevant customer communication usually pays (assuming all the above have been done);

8) the key decisions on marketing are taken by boards, not by marketers; and

9) rigorous benefit analysis and purposeful testing greatly increase the effectiveness of marketing.

But paying homage to enduring truths is not enough. Marketers also need to assert themselves, by doing six things. First. Simply doing it. The difficulty “is not enunciating principles but getting people to actually implement them”, comments Davidson. “They always mean to, but most people tend never to quite get round to them.” Changing best practice to common practice is “incredibly difficult” as the urgent drives out the important, and getting real results from long-term investment in things like relationship marketing “usually takes years of very hard work”, he notes.

To practise what he’s preaching, Davidson is offensively marketing his book (and foregoing three years’ royalties to do so). Initiatives include 80,000 sampler booklets (distributed through channels such as Marketing Week and BA at Heathrow), a reader competition (with 100 bottles of champagne for prizes), and an unprecedented after-sales service offer where Davidson (who is chairman of consulting firm OCC) is setting aside two months of his time to respond to reader queries. “My friends tell me I’m mad,” he admits.

Second and third in his action list is to embrace process management to really get things done, and to reorganise marketing departments to make sure at least 30 per cent of their time is spent on long-term franchise building.

Fourth, attack accountants. Go on the offensive about performance measurement. Concepts like the balanced scorecard are now old hat in theory, but most companies still measure their performance by narrow, backward-looking, short-term financial numbers, argues Davidson. They should also be tracking critical marketing indicators such as loyalty and customer relationships, for which marketing input is critical.

Fifth, ally with human resources. Every employee’s job specification should answer three questions: who are the employee’s particular customers, external and internal?; how these customers’ needs are best met?; and how well they do so efficiently and at lowest cost? Every employee should be appraised, rewarded and promoted on how well they perform these tasks, suggests Davidson. When human resources and marketing work hand-in-hand to do this organisations really will become customer focused, he claims.

Finally, we come back to where we started: the need to clarify terminology. Everybody in the company understands that profit is not the exclusive responsibility of the finance department, notes Davidson, but few seem to understand that marketing is not the exclusive role of the marketing department.

The difference is that finance has got its language right. It distinguishes between what the internal department actually manages – finance – and what the financial approach to business is about – profits. Likewise, marketing is a good way of describing what the department does, suggests Davidson. But it doesn’t explain what the marketing approach to business is about. His own suggestion is “effective customer value management”, but he admits, it could be clearer and snappier. Any suggestions?

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