‘Businesses that do not put marketing at their heart are doomed to fail’

Advertising Week Europe 2014: Most business fail because they fail to adopt a marketing culture that enables them to adapt to external circumstances and market shifts, according to Martin Glenn, chief executive of United Biscuits and president of The Marketing Society.

Martin Glenn
Photo: Martin Glenn, The Marketing Society president and United Biscuits CEO, has urged marketers to take a more ‘hard edged’ approach to business.

Speaking on a panel discussion at Advertising Week Europe 2014, Glenn says he believes the “best motto” for someone in marketing is “don’t be afraid to cannibalise your own business” because if you don’t someone else will. He cites the fact that since the FTSE 100 began in 1983 more than 60 per cent of its members have changed as a result of “creative destruction”, changes to the market that business need to adapt to to succeed.

“Most companies fail because they fail to adapt to external circumstances. Free markets thrive on the basis of creative destructive, where a change happens that can be fatal to individual organisations but collectively the economy benefits,” he added.

He uses Kodak and Fujifilm as an example, highlighting that Fujifilm is now a £8bn business while Kodak went bankrupt because it failed to cope with the technological shift from fixed film into digital. He says companies can thrive even if they don’t have a marketing function because they have a marketing culture that they can “transmit inside the business to make change happen”.

“Failure is a lack of process to transmit signals from the outside world into the decision-making of a company. This transmission mechanism from outside to in is really the essence of marketing. Marketing if anything is a culture, it’s much more than its individual disciplines like product design, brand management, pricing, promotion, advertising. All those are important but it’s the collective marketing culture that predicts success or failure,” he said.

David Haigh, chief executive at Brand Finance, disagreed, saying that while the majority of business failures are related to marketing there are notable exceptions. These include Lehman Brothers, PanAm, General Motors and Enron, which all failed due to financial problems.

“The reasons for failure are many and they are not just marketing. Martin is trying to steal more than his fair share of marketing’s responsibility for business failure. While the percentage of finance related failures are lower, they are far bigger and far more deadly than marketing failures. Many are so large and so famous the perpetrators become household names,” he said.

Asked to vote on the two sides of the argument, The Marketing Society’s CEO called an “admirable draw”.

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