September 19, 2012

Marketing in crisis: what's the way out?

In his 2004 book Marketing As Strategy Nirmalya Kumar expressed his views on how the marketing profession can escape from the destructive route it is riding the last years and transform to a business activity that will regain the respect of the public and CEOs. If we believe the latest findings of the study conducted by the of the Fournaise Marketing group in 2011 not much has changed since: Marketers are still not seen by the majority of CEOs as a a real asset: "73% of CEOs think Marketers lack business credibility: They can't prove they generate business growth".
This is a worrying fact and a red flag that field marketers and academics should take seriously. We academics must realize that there seems to be a gap between what we teach our students in college, what they will be asked to do when they enter the field and what their CEOs expect from them. Field marketers on the other hand must understand the big change in the marketplace called customer empowerment. One of the symptoms of this change is the fact that the public is mistrusting marketers, mainly those insisting on monologues, one way communication and those who still think that they know better than their customers what they need and want.
One of the interesting issues highlighted in the report is the perception of  the majority of CEOs that "They (Marketers) are focused too much on the latest trends such as social media, because they believe they represent the new marketing frontiers - but can rarely demonstrate how these trends will help generate more business for the company".
Interesting remark but it should not surprise us, there are very few marketing activities that can really and clearly demonstrate how they help generate more business for the company, so in fact we do not talk about a new problem here.
To my opinion the whole issue is simple, many marketers never learned to be critical of themselves and were also never critical of trends and hypes. In a number of earlier posts in this blog I highlighted the Social Media "experts" explosion threatening to derail the social media marketing. The social media is indeed an important marketing landmark as well as an important social phenomenon; it is also a major challenge to marketers who have to learn new ways of dealing with the new customer. This simply means listening to the customer's (social) voice, engage customers and stop broadcasting; the customer is now the powerful party and the sooner marketers realize this the better.
Douglas McGregor wrote in 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise where on the basis of the X - Y theory he urged organizations to pursue their objectives by engaging their personnel rather than managing it. That means to look for ways to develop and use the potential of their employees rather than trying to manage them by means of control and punishment. Marketers should in analogy look for ways to help their customers to meet their objectives and needs by listening to them, getting them involved in their business processes and becoming their advocates. This will be The Human Side of Marketing that the empowered customers expect to experience today.

So if we talk about a way out of the crisis in Marketing theory and practice the best course to follow is to get back to the basics: Listen to the customer voice and try to understand who the new customer is. This will help us marketers to transform our picture based on the mass marketing era and device ways to communicate with the customer on personal, individual level. A basic requirement here is to understand that we are not the powerful party any more and that our brand is not our property any more either. Successful business of the future will be those finding ways to engage the customer successfully, address the individual customer needs and use the customer intelligence as a source of innovation.