Marketing as a business discipline is in serious trouble. Its effectiveness has decreased to the point where a less than 1% response rate is often seen as respectable in some marketing channels. Its relevance to business has declined as the CMO often finds himself reporting to the Board rather than being on it. And its reputation in society has declined to the point where marketers are often seen as little more than today’s equivalent of snake-oil salesmen.
So what has gone wrong? What has ruined marketing? I believe that a combination of stupidity, short-termism and immorality are big contributors to marketing’s decline in its effectiveness, relevance and reputation.
If you take a step back you will see that the ethos of marketing has changed over the past 50 or so years. It used to be the driver of a three-step process of 1. understanding what customers want, 2. organising to give it to them profitably and 3. telling them all about it.
Today, this has been changed so that marketing is now the driver of a much more intrumental three-step process of 1. create more stuff that we already make or that competitors make, 2. tell customers about it over and over again, and 3. manage away the customer queries, complaints and returns as cheaply as possible. This is a fundamentally flawed approach to marketing. It has resulted in a race to the marketing tragedy of the commons as promises have gone undelivered, requests for help have gone unanswered and a manipulative, Machiavellian approach to marketing has become the norm. There is no wonder that Bain & Co reported a huge ‘Service Delivery Gap’ where, although 80% of executives think their companies deliver a superior experience for customers, only 8% of those customers agree with them.
The grandees of marketing, people like George Day, Philip Kotler and Ted Levitt taught companies how marketing must create value for customers before it can create value for shareholders five decades ago. But these lessons seem to have been forgotten in the rush towards a form of real-time business that is neither realistic nor particularly businesslike. My problem isn’t with real-time marketing per se – I have designed and built real-time marketing systems for pre-paid mobile telcos in the past – but with the low-quality of thinking, the short-termism and the low moral standards that seem to be endemic in marketers today. Is it OK to force yourself into a destructive loop of customer loss through poor quality service followed by a huge push to recruit new customers at better rates than long-standing customers, that many retail bank marketers have been reduced to? I don’t think so. It displays a singular lack of marketing intellect and understanding of how value is co-created with customers. Is it OK to make promises to customers and to simply walk-away from providing them with any support once they find out they were sold a dummy, (because you already have their money), that many utility marketers have stooped to? I don’t think so either. It suggests marketers’ moral compasses are no longer pointing true north.
Many of the problems I see in business today can be traced back, in part, to poor quality thinking about the telos of marketing, to a short-termism that promotes sales now over value over a customer’s lifetime and to an almost complete lack of marketing morality. Day, Kotler & Levitt showed us how to make marketing work. Their teaching has been reinforced by a newer generation of marketing masters like Tom Asacker, Seth Godin and Alan Mitchell. And there are enough marketers out there following their principles to show that they are still as relevant today as they were when they were written half a century ago. So what is wrong with the other marketers; the ones who slavishly copy their peers without thinking about the marketing consequences and the ones who market promises they know they can’t keep without thinking about marketing morality? What is it that drives them to do all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons?
Do you agree that stupidity, short-termism and immorality have ruined marketing?
And more to the point, what should marketers do to dig themselves out of the pit they have dug themselves into?