Whatever happened to marketing?

Author: Mike Rigby MRA Marketing

Has marketing lost its way, asks Mike Rigby, of MRA Marketing? It seems to have lost interest in three of the four Ps of the marketing mix.

Ten years ago HBR, the Harvard Business Review, reported how business needs were changing and forecasted how the seven C-level jobs in the C-suite would evolve to meet them. They saw little change in the status of Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer or Chief Legal Officer. They expected the positions of Chief Human Resource Officer, Chief Operating and Chief Information Officers to strengthen. But they were equivocal about the role of the Chief Marketing Officer or CMO. E-commerce was forcing sales leaders to grapple with responsibilities that typically fell to marketing, and the lines between sales and marketing continued to blur.


Someone needs to represent the interests of customers in strategy and investment decisions, and HBR expected CMOs to step up. But generally CMOs have not made their mark in the boardroom. The marketing media has reported a series of high profile promotions and demotions, with CMOs renamed or replaced by Chief Customer Officers, Chief Growth or Digital Officers, or even Chief Branding and Technology Officers. Many boards have dropped the idea of giving marketing a seat at top table.


There have been intense debates in marketing circles about its state and status, and marketing has clearly failed to live up to expectations. But, as a passionate missionary for marketing, I also see many companies failing to achieve their potential for want of a marketing perspective or strong customer advocate when busines models, strategy and investment are discussed and decided. So, what went wrong?


Over the last 25 years, marketing has been distracted and has taken its eye off the ball in three key areas:


  1. Marketing has become preoccupied with short term campaigns and has struggled to demonstrate attractive returns on marcoms investment within a short timescale. That’s not surprising. Strong growth, brand building and the financial returns that accrue from them need time. As do significant changes in Product, Place, Pricing and Promotion (the famous 4 Ps of the marketing mix). The 4 Ps also need to be tightly integrated to work as a whole.


  1. Marketing enthusiastically embraced every aspect of digital transformation. Agencies became digital agencies, marketing directors, digital marketing directors, and so on. Digital marketing measurement makes it easy to focus on ephemeral intermediaries such as likes, views and clicks, rather than important customer acquisition, sales growth and margin improvement.


  1. Most marketing people have confined themselves to just one of the 4 Ps of the marketing mix - Promotion, or marketing communications - and neglected Product, Place eg distribution, channels to market, and Price. Hence the hurtful gibes about the CMO being the CPO (Chief Promotion Officer) or, more scornfully, the CCO (Chief Colouring In Officer).


The problem is Product, Place, and Price are too important to ignore. So, other functions have stepped in to fill the gap, and they’re eating marketing’s lunch. Product, Place and Price are three quarters of the marketing mix. They are in effect the cake, while Promotion is seen as just the decoration or icing that sells the cake.


No one is excluding marketing from the seat of power and influence, and marketing has no one but itself to blame. But with blind spots for Product, Place and Price, or at best an arms-length relationship with them, marketing is excluding itself. It’s also reinforcing its reputation as being the colouring in department, the people who design the expensive decoration on someone else’s cake.


Customers need marketors to represent their interests in the C-suite, but marketors can’t get a seat at the top table without owning and mastering all the 4 Ps of marketing.