Strategic knowledge suffers at the expense of buzzwords

The number of searches for ‘marketing strategy’ has fallen in the past five years even as fashionable concepts such as programmatic have seen explosion in interest, pointing to an obsession with tactics over strategy.


The fear that marketing strategy is suffering from dwindling interest in favour of an obsession with more fashionable concepts and buzzwords is confirmed by new Google search trend data covering the past five years, provided exclusively to Marketing Week.

Between 2013 and 2018, the number of searches for ‘marketing strategy’ in the UK fell by 9% and ‘differentiation’ by 5%, while online interest in the terms ‘programmatic’ and ‘millennials’ skyrocketed by 448% and 338% respectively.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson: Tactics without strategy is dumbing down our discipline

The data seems to support the argument of Marketing Week columnist and professor Mark Ritson, who believes the discipline is suffering from what he calls ‘tactification’ – the progressive shift of focus away from the fundamental concepts that inform a company’s marketing strategy and towards how that strategy is then tactically executed in various channels.

“Most marketers think marketing is just the way we communicate with customers and they obsess about outbound marketing,” he wrote in Marketing Week’s 40th anniversary issue in June. He suggested “young, untrained marketers” tend to believe erroneously that marketing equates to “the technology of promotion”.

In a previous column he had warned that “marketing seems to be devolving into a base tactical pursuit devoid of strategic thinking”.

Other search terms to have surged in interest include ‘artificial intelligence’, whose search volume has grown by 97% in the past five years; ‘brand purpose’, up 450%; and ‘How Brands Grow’, the title of Byron Sharp’s seminal 2010 marketing book, which is up 379%. The last two have risen from such a low base in 2013 that the data can’t be considered robustly comparable, however.

Nevertheless, the data demonstrates how in-vogue concepts have rapidly gripped the marketing world in recent years while the core of the discipline is relatively underappreciated.

It’s not all doom and gloom for purists of marketing theory. Although differentiation has taken a hammering in the past five years – partly, perhaps, because of the rise in Sharp’s scepticism towards it – the concept of the ‘four Ps’ (product, price, promotion and place) has actually attracted more interest, with search volumes growing by 65% since 2013.

Searches for ‘positioning’ (up 14%) and ‘brand management’ (up 1%) are also holding up relatively well – although if these concepts have become disassociated from the idea of marketing strategy, it could suggest many of those searching for them will not have a sound grasp of how they relate to one another.

Search term Percentage search volume increase 2013-2018
Four Ps 65%
Positioning 14%
Marketing strategy -9%
Differentiation -5%
Brand management 1%
Programmatic 448%
Artificial intelligence 97%
Millennials 338%
How Brands Grow 379%
Brand purpose 450%




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