The evolution of the role of marketers

Thursday, 1 December 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

With the world’s largest and most prestigious professional body for marketing, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) celebrating its centenary this year, CIM Chairman Chris Lenton spent a couple of days in Sri Lanka to be part of the celebrations in the country earlier this week and to speak to the marketing community here to find out how they are getting on.

In a quick chat with the Daily FT, he shared his views on the challenges faced by marketers globally and areas of improvement for the profession based on the research the Institute had carried out recently with 150 top CEOs and senior executives attached to world’s leading companies. Following are excerpts from the interview.

By Cassandra Mascarenhas

Q: Over the last century, how would you say the role of the marketer has changed?

A: Dramatically. If you go back to the beginning of the 20th century the profession wasn’t even called marketing – it was called sales management.

Secondly, the pace of change in 2011 is about 20 times quicker than it was 100 years ago thanks to the communications explosion.

Furthermore, the advent of the ability to match markets made a very dramatic change as companies could start to look internationally in a way they couldn’t do before. Without the modern technology today, phenomena like Apple and Facebook that have become billion dollar companies in a very short space of time wouldn’t have happened.

Q: What sort of role should marketers take on in this current environment?

A: South East Asia is doing well but Western Europe isn’t because the politicians have wrecked it by promising too much in return for votes and borrowed the money to pay for it and now they are overextended and Southern Europe can’t finance its debt. America is struggling and has lost its triple A rating so companies will rely more on their marketers to maintain their market share and get a bigger share of the market, with less money and resources.

It’s a huge challenge but they’ll do it. It’s all about innovation. Companies need to recruit more creative individuals – if half of what they come up with work, it’s a success. Marketers have tremendous pressure on them as every campaign is expected to work which is not possible but they need to keep trying to do something different.

Q: Could you tell me more about the research conducted by CIM?

A: We spoke to senior executives and marketing directors of 150 top international companies and we asked them about their marketing challenges, to what extent they integrate their programmes across the company and to what extent they have an integrated marketing approach.

There should be a consistent message and branding throughout. It’s actually about getting more for less, so once you invest in a campaign, you should be able to use it, irrespective of the medium you’re going to push it through and the idea is to get much more for your money spend because there is huge pressure on budgets.

You’ve not really got a recession here with eight per cent economic growth. Western Europe has got growth rates of under one per cent which is really no growth at all and so budgets are being cut all over the place and the pressure is on in a lot of international marketers to get better value for money.

Q: What are some of the other issues that came out in the research?

A: One is how poor marketing people are at the marketing matrix – showing the rate of return in the marketing investment and the value of what they do. Marketing people should be able to promote themselves as well as promote the company so I think it’s an area that needs a lot of attention.

Some things are very difficult to measure; the perception of your brand for instance, your brand value, it’s quite difficult to measure these things.

Proctor & Gamble for example, paid $31 billion for Gillette but only actually acquired $4.9 billion of assets so the difference shows you the value in the branding.

There’s also a whole issue around ethics, governance and sustainability and its not just about sustainable resources and ethical production and manufacturing.

Q: Do marketers speak the language of the board room?

A: Probably not, not very well and if you want to influence the company to success, you need to be able to speak the same language that the board is speaking and make sure that they understand what you are doing.

The other issue is this – there are a lot of companies that operate in departmental silos and I think you’ve got to have one company culture, that’s the way forward. Of course, we’re creatures of habit, we tend to group into silos and this means that sometimes departments don’t cooperate properly.

Q: What new techniques have been adopted in terms of marketing and communication?

A: There are three things people are doing. With the advent of social media, what’s actually happening is that companies are monitoring what their customers are saying about them. In doing so, they are getting very valuable feedback on their products and it equally informs them what to do in the future.

The second thing is that it’s a fallacy that everything is one click away and that people go to a myriad of sites – they don’t. What actually happens is that they actually go to five or six of their favourite sites all the time. When they have to conduct searches on search engines, 87 per cent only look at the first six results, they don’t even go to the bottom of the page! Therefore it is important for companies to occupy the spaces that their customers occupy. Go to where your customers are and that may mean that it’s not your website but someone else’s.

One of the big areas of growth is apps. I reckon the apps market will top out in about three to four years time and I wonder how many companies are really thinking about having an app strategy in their marketing planning. There are apps coming out all the time so you need to think about which apps would be appropriate for your company or product and get an idea.

Q: What challenges are marketers facing in terms of leadership?

A: The results of our research show that more than 50 per cent of marketers feel that they do not get the support that they need to do their jobs from the senior management team and that’s quite serious as that means that there is an indigenous weakness in the company and maybe what they are doing is not properly understood.  

Marketers are missing a trick, they are not doing enough to promote themselves internally and with the leadership team to make sure that they get the support that they need, so that is a big challenge.

Q: What do you have to say about CIM Sri Lanka’s performance so far?

A: It’s been brilliant, they are the exemplar for the region no question about it, from the template they use, the way they operate – it’s the template we’ll be using in other countries but I don’t think it will work without the Sri Lankan people as there is an attitude and mentality here that I like – they are very positive, go-getting type of people and very competitive.