Marketing is Dead

Marketers such as Philip Kotler consider that their role is to satisfy customer needs profitably. This is certainly not what the majority of people who work in business consider as marketing. When we think of the marketing team we think of the guys who commission the advertising and brochureware, and typically they don’t actually create these themselves. If anything, the way marketers describe themselves is the end-to-end of what any business does and is the remit of everyone in the organisation. So why do we need marketing people?

It is of course the products and services that we develop that satisfy our customers’ needs, and the efficiency with which we do this that determines whether we are profitable or not. This marketing agenda is everyone’s, but in particular is the remit of the business owner or CEO.

The CEO delegates certain of his responsibilities to different functions within his business… and this is where the rot starts for marketers. The marketing guys are given the remit to do the market research, feeding the results back to the other parts of the business. What do our customers think of us, how is our brand perceived, how do we fare in relation to our competitors? They also have responsiblity for communicating the product benefits and brand messages back out to customers.

Photo courtesy of Labour Behind the Label (CC)
Nike's staff are told to Just Do It!

But there’s something missing here. That is, everything that happens between the data coming in from customers and the messages going back out to them – none of this is the remit of the marketing people. They have influence on what happens but no control. The other functions in an organisation see the marketing guys as the pink and fluffy guys who “do the ads” so their suggestions about product or service improvement are not taken particularly seriously.

Impotent marketers meanwhile are left frustrated since they can’t deliver on the things they know their customers need. So they spend time creating messages that seek to differentiate their products or services in ways that often have nothing to do with their products or services. They create whole new worlds of attachment to brands that have nothing to do with the products or services they sell. Nike’s “Just Do It” message is ridiculously detached from the clothing they sell which was stitched together in cheap-labour factories throughout Asia.

Marketing has already fallen on its own sword when we judge a company by its clever ads rather than the clever products it makes.

Marketers have a choice today. Stick to the knitting and re-brand yourselves as the Research and Advertising Team, so that everyone is clear on your role within the organisation. Or, shift your remit to include ownership for the entire customer relationship. Now this might sound great, but be warned that it involves spending lots of time understanding the more gritty parts of how your business works, including service, process, product, technology, capabilities, resourcing, costs and profitability,.

Either way, it is time to lay Marketing to rest.

5 thoughts on “Marketing is Dead

  1. Although I’m not a fan of Apple and their “policed utopia”, I really admire their “There’s an App For That” slogan. Works well for the masses. After all isn’t BONDING with the widest market what marketing is all about? …perhaps…


  2. A link to the US ad for Old Spice that aired during the Superbowl earlier this month. In a market where homogenous products have to slug it out for market share, the only thing that differentiates them in actuality is very often not actual at all. They’re selling a dream, a lifestyle, a set of cues that the buyer wants to identify with. The Old Spice ad, I have no doubt, will give those values to a tired old product and re-energise it for a whole new generation of (initially female) purchasers. It’s quite simply brilliant. Old Spice is a bottle of scented pisswater, same as all the rest, but just like Lynx did for 18-25 year old pimply guys, it is creating an artificial need. Sweet FA to do with the actual product, but the manufacturing guys, the R&D guys, the sales guys and most especially the accounts guys will not care so much about that. They won’t be axing the marketing dept any time soon.


  3. hi Brendan,

    Marketing is very much alive of course. You are correct in that lots of people confuse the word ‘marketing’ with ‘promotion’. It would be foolish for any brand to rely on fancy words, promises and images as a substitute for delivering insight-led products and services. Of course it happens. But this is just ‘bad marketing’.

    Good marketing is alive and well – which is identifying real customer needs and finding a way to meet them better than competitors, at a profit. Proctor and Gamble do it every day, are world leaders and are led by marketers. As Mr Drucker once said, (I paraphrase) there are only two things a business must do – innovation and marketing.

    Promotion and advertising is still very important. And it works. Of course not all of it works. There is lots of poor advertising. Poor strategy and poor execution. But (as somebody close to advertising), I suspect most marketing comms folk would rather be talking about real and obvious game changing products and services than using image advertising alone to differentiate.

    But marketing is more than research and advertising. If marketing doesn’t exist, who is going to be the voice of the customer in the boardroom? And who is going identify which segments to focus on (and not focus on), thus allowing the brand to identify the needs in the first place and deliver better products and services for these customers? What about the much-neglected pricing?

    We need more marketing-led companies. Yes, the entire business need to educate themselves to understand marketing but somebody needs to lead. And as you say, they do need to get into the gritty parts.

    Marketers are somewhat to blame themselves for the poor fluffy image they have. They need to be accountable for that they do, for what they spend and for really understanding customer needs.


  4. On the money as usual Paul. I wonder if existing marketing training is adequate to equip marketers to take on this role in organisations.


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