Is the marketing director role dead?

Procter & Gamble is getting rid of marketing directors in favour of brand directors, one of a number of companies introducing new titles that they hope will better explain the role marketers do.

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The switch to brand directors and chief customer officers shows how the CMO role is expanding.

Effective from 1 July, the move is part of wider global efforts to simplify P&G’s marketing structure and make the firm more agile, as well as giving brand directors more accountability. It follows the decision to restructure P&G’s marketing division and rename it brand management to ensure that disciplines such as market research, design and PR work more closely with marketing.

Oru Mohiuddin, senior analyst at Euromonitor, says the changes are in response to an increased focus on developing its brands as P&G faces increasing competitive pressure. She says P&G has traditionally focused on high price tiers, justifying that with the investment it put into R&D and innovation.

However, with the economic downturn it has been hit by consumers trading down and rivals such as Unilever and L’Oreal offering higher levels of products at more competitive pricing. To counter that P&G is looking towards further segmentation, she adds.

“P&G must focus on and develop its brands and incorporate more technology into products. It needs to take a more in-depth look at segmentation in the market and develop its offerings accordingly. That is why it is moving in the direction of brands – to make sure it can target to very specific needs and hone its positioning,” she says.

P&G is not the only brand changing how it explains the marketers’ role to the outside world. Recently retailers Tesco and Asda have done away with the chief marketing officer role, replacing it with a chief customer office, while at M&S the marketing chief boss has responsibility for business development and international as well.

It’s not just retailers. Vodafone’s marketing boss has the job title head of brand, reputation and citizenship while Visa’s is the chief brand officer and at British Gas the marketing function reports into the commercial director.

Changing roles 

The shift reflects a wider acceptance that marketing is not about the latest campaign and trying to sell a product or service to as many people as possible. Instead it is about managing relationships, engaging with customers and putting consumers at the heart of communication.

Marketers are also increasingly finding themselves pulled into different parts of the business, from IT to HR, managing vast IT spend or how a company is portrayed to potential employees.

The internet puts consumers more in control than ever before, with brands no longer able to talk at them but instead having to build a two-way dialogue. They must think about what a customer wants and build their marketing plan around that, rather than looking at the product or service and the best way to communicate its benefits.

Aly Richards, chief executive at the Intelligent Marketing Institute, a knowledge exchange for marketing and communications professionals, says that by installing chief customer officers, brands are instilling that customer-centric culture into their DNA. She believes the label change is important.

“A customer director is important because it understands the customers’ emotional journey and needs, rather than the company’s,” she adds.

A backlash against marketing?

It also reflects a possible backlash against the term “marketing”, with customers fed up of some of the practices, says Richards.

Hugh Burkitt, chief executive of the Marketing Society, admits that “marketing”, like any other term, can go in and out of fashion and that it “does get some abuse and can take on overtones of selling and forcing people to do things they don’t want to”.

However, this doesn’t spell the beginning of the end of marketing. The job title might be falling out of fashion, but the principles remain the same.

It is still about companies connecting with customers, creating memorable ad campaigns and building relationships. It is just that the ways to do it are changing as people use social media and mobile and tools such as data and analytics become ever more important.

As Burkitt highlights, P&G remains one of the most marketing-led companies globally and that is not going to change. What the restructure might do is provide a renewed sense of purpose to those tasked with building its brands.

“There are fashions in these things. Organisations have their own reasons for shaking things up to bring a fresh energy [to the company],” he adds. 

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