The viewpoints

Click here to read the cover feature: Grim view of marketers across the board
Click here to read marketers respond to the accusations

The commercial director and former marketing director
Accusation: Marketers failing to understand the bottom line

I jokingly describe marketers as coming in one of two buckets. There are the ones who are brilliant when it comes to pitches but can’t turn on a calculator – although that is slightly unfair. In the other bucket are those that are driven by numbers but wouldn’t recognise a good ad if they saw it. Trying to get the best of both worlds is a real challenge.

Marketing teams really need to demonstrate that they understand the business requirements and the role of marketing in delivering to the bottom line. But I still don’t see that happening internally or with other businesses I speak to.

Creative and media planning should go hand in hand, particularly the planning around digital media, but I can categorically say that marketers have failed to fully understand and embrace digital media channels.

In the past two years, the finance, legal and corporate function has increased significantly in importance in terms of leadership and support.

Marketing as a function, generally, has decreased [during the recession]. But it does vary by organisation. Where you have companies that are brand led, such as P&G and Unilever, you do see the position of marketing retained [on a similar level to other business functions] but the budgets decreasing significantly.

In FMCG companies, the finance team has a greater role in [pushing] return on investment, so marketers in those environments are far more concerned about what they are delivering [and are used to the influence of the finance department].

David Smith, previously HR director on the board of Asda, and now a consultant
Accusation: Marketers get the big bucks

I think there is genuine friction between marketing and HR because marketing is seen as the rich man of the board, with the big budgets. The first thing to get cut whenever a business is in difficulty is the training budget; marketing gets protection because people put a bit of a fence around the budget.

You have to have banter and humour and debate things and that is how I’ve always resolved things [like this] in the organisation.

It’s all about agreeing an agenda that looks at the key issues and how we can work together to fix them, whether that is done through informal workshops or chats around the coffee machine.

It all has to relate back to where the business wants to be. Everyone who is playing a functional part in whatever silo they are in still has to play their part in the big agenda, and that is what happened at Asda.

There is always a relationship between marketing and human resources because the whole issue of customer data and customer perception feeds into what the people [HR] policies are actually achieving.

So, if Asda is trying to hire gregarious people to make the business more friendly it will show up in what the customers think [and therefore reflect back on to customer perception data, used by marketing]. I used to spend a lot of my time in customer listening groups and doing what we called the company shop, where we’d give someone £50, accompany them on their shopping trip and listen to what their motivations were in terms of what they put in their basket.

Whenever we sat down in a customer listening group they would say three things about why they shopped in Asda – one was the great value, second they said George [clothing] because it is cheap fashion, and third they’d say that our people are the friendliest supermarket staff.

So there is a close relationship between trying to get people to perform at a certain level and the marketing department, asking about what customers think [of the brand]. So we talked a lot about perception data with the marketing team.

The managing director
Accusation: Marketers work in silos, failing to communicate how they benefit the business

A criticism levelled at the marketing department by one managing director is that it can exist almost separately to the rest of the business.

The managing director of a financial services brand, who does not wish to be named, says that a company he previously worked for had a central marketing department that charged each business unit a set levy every year for marketing campaigns.

He explains: “I used to have to pay more than £1m a year for the overall spend on the brand, so I used to write a cheque out at the start of the year. I never really got passionate about the central marketing, I just saw it as an overhead.

“That is when marketing becomes so detached from the business that people lose sight of the value that it can add when it is successful. When a marketing function works really badly there isn’t that level of engagement with all of the business units.”

He adds that he felt ignored by the central marketing team. “If there are several business units in a company, a centralised marketing function is not going to consult with everyone, because everyone wants something slightly different, so the marketers ignore all of them and do what they think is right.”

Having a separate marketing team means that the individual brands in a business are not as close to customers as they could be, he says. “Compared to any other function of a business, marketing is probably the one I would keep the closest to the business, rather than have it looked after by a central brand team. Marketing works best when it is closest to the customer.

“If people are charged a brand or group levy for marketing and they don’t see the benefit [to their business unit] then it is viewed as an overhead rather than a business enabler.”

The managing director also says that marketing is at risk of being seen in some boardrooms as a way of showing that customers are happy and therefore just to keep shareholders satisfied.

He suggests that running a portfolio of brands where each business unit looks after its own marketing can be a solution. “There is an argument for running a portfolio of brands and I’ve seen that work successfully. But sometimes the job of the chief executive is to accept that you are not going to have homogeneity of people’s views.”

He adds. “Good marketers tend to be able to do the analysis, translate it into financial metrics and create a platform for the business to take a different view.

“Successful marketing departments understand the channels in which a business operates, they are strategic, they understand the market and are able to challenge the business as a critical friend.”


The marketers respond

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