Marketing is in Trouble

Marketing is not just about communications. Its role has to reflect the outside world and ensure the whole of the company is correctly set up to deal with it.

Marketing is in Trouble

Marketing is not just about communications. Its role has to reflect the outside world and ensure the whole of the company is correctly set up to deal with it.

I’m not an accountant nor am I an IT expert. Neither am I a manufacturing or logistics expert. Yet I have always managed to hold my own with these topics in any strategy conversations. I know when something sounds right or doesn’t. But in my 30 years working with all sorts of industries, there is still one profession that intrigues me. And that’s marketing.

I’m regularly confused about the role of marketing. And when I see big budgets being spent on creative campaigns that seem to be in another language or directed at another level of consciousness, I continue to question them. I’ve sometimes got in trouble for that.

In the fast-moving consumer goods sector in particular, many marketers keep very busy briefing creative agencies and signing off campaigns. Others spend fortunes conducting lots of market research. Now there is nothing wrong with any of that, provided it is earthed back to the core purpose of marketing. It sometimes feels a little scattered to me.

What is the role of marketing? Has it changed over time? What is its role going forward? Let me tell you about an amazing new book that I read just this week. Marketing is in Trouble by Colin Gordon. Colin has led many household brands like Avonmore, C&C, Bulmers over a stellar 35 year career and knows a thing or two about the subject. I have to say that several pennies dropped me when I read it. I took great comfort from his messages and there’s something here for you too, whether you’re B2B, B2C, large or small.

Colin believes that if marketing stays as it is, with no real consensus on its definition, no agreed process and no accepted measure of effectiveness, is bound to become increasingly marginalised. It will see it’s central role possibly eroding or being ignored and have even more budgets cut. Protecting those budgets will become really hard to defend.

On top of all that, along comes digital marketing and social media, that seems to enable every executive with a smart phone, be a marketer. A whole new platform and language has developed that has shaken marketing to the core and back. ‘Likes’, ‘impressions’, SEO, CPC, sponsored content and funnel marketing all add to the mix. It’s probably no wonder that marketing budgets get an early chop in cost-reduction programmes. It has become more complex than it needs to be.

Some key takeaways from this book

1. The role of Marketing. Remember that marketing’s role is to support the acquisition and retention of customers. It is also about making it easy for customers to buy your products or services in what has become a more complex, rushed, over-supplied and global market. Customers need direction. By default, that also means making it easy for your company to sell to them.

Marketing is not just about communications. Its role has to reflect the outside world and ensure the whole of the company is correctly set up to deal with it.

  • Too often smaller companies feel they can’t ‘do’ marketing because they can’t afford a marketing person or a budget for a marketing campaign. But if marketing is all about making selling easier, then everyone in the company is responsible for the role. There’s no point in having  a great marketing department if the customer’s order is incomplete or they can’t get their delivery on time. It’s pointless having either a marketer or sales person if Production doesn’t comply with the agreed product specifications, or if Finance gets the invoicing all wrong.
  • Marketing should be at the core of the business. The book outlines ten interdependent steps that are designed for organisations of all sorts, sizes and sectors. In essence, the whole company has a part to play. From understanding all touchpoints where you interact with your customers, it extends to ensuring the whole of the company is focused on the ease of selling or buying.
  • This ‘touchpoint’ analysis should be done regularly within departments so as to identify enablers that can be exploited, and blockers that should be mitigated. I would also add that these meetings might occasionally have representative from all functions at the same time. While such discussions may be tense, corrective actions would be agreed if the meeting is properly facilitated.
  • Identify One Big Thing (OBT) that can unite the whole of the company to stretch itself to solve growth opportunities. Rather than having a scattergun approach, be focused on one big goal that every department can plan towards. That can change of course from time to time. It might be a volume play. It might be the launch of a new product, or it might a major promotional event. Be sure that it is communicated to all and sundry so that there is no ambiguity.
  • Do not becoming overly dependent on new digital media. Ensure a wide current view of how the customer behaves relevant to your sector. For example, Colin draws his research from a whole range of insights from economics, anthropology, psychology and even alchemy.


In Colin’s world, marketing should act like an air traffic controller, coordinating all the other functions to make sure the customer’s needs and desires are properly met. That does not suggest you should create a new hierarchy in the organisation structure. In fact that wouldn’t happen if your culture is fit for purpose. It is just about ensuring that all roads point in the same direction.

Monthly actionable insights from Alan

Get actionable insights on change management, organisation culture and customer experience, delivered each month to your inbox.
Newsletter Signup

Culture & Change management expert

Enthusiastic and down-to-earth, Alan can share his hard-won insight from helping global giants to grow profit.