LETTERS to the editor should be accompanied by a home and business telephone number so that they may be verified. The editor reserves the right to edit letters for brevity if necessary.Marketing still viableI feel compelled to take issue with John...

LETTERS to the editor should be accompanied by a home and business telephone number so that they may be verified. The editor reserves the right to edit letters for brevity if necessary.

Marketing still viable

I feel compelled to take issue with John Dalla Costa’s column in the Dec. 11 issue (The decline and fault of marketing), in which he says that ‘marketing is dead.’

It’s true that marketing isn’t always practised very well or imaginatively, for two reasons in particular.

First, I do believe that the mba system seems to inculcate an unhealthy reliance on numbers and analysis.

Second, the whole cost-cutting and short-term mentality, which is prevalent in most companies, is not conducive to many of the disciplines or benefits which marketing can bring.

So is marketing really dead, or, at least, past its ‘sell by’ code? Or is marketing still a useful tool?

Who can doubt it, if they really understand where marketing came from, and what the alternatives are.

In the 1950s and ’60s, it began to dawn on companies that they had brands and assets which required long-term thinking and championing.

Up to that point, salesmen were the nearest thing to marketing.

The difference was that salesmen worried about their (retail) customers and their next order; marketers were paid to know how brands ticked and how consumers felt about those brands.

Hence, the growth of research, because one of the many definitions of marketing is that it helps take some of the risk, some of the subjectivity, out of business decisions.

It’s also important to know that in the early days of marketing, product and marketing managers were encouraged to consider themselves as mini-managing directors.

This was not an ego-boosting exercise; marketers were responsible for every aspect of their brands’ performance, from formulation to production, through to profit.

This is in stark contrast to both the training and empowerment of many of the marketers one encounters today.

It’s true that we’ve all seen marketers take decisions which fly in the face of all the golden rules.

It’s also true that they’ve besieged consumers with a plethora of undifferentiated products of line extensions in the past few years.

But to condemn marketing to death as an outmoded tool seems as summary as suggesting that medicine has no role because one or two of its practitioners have been struck off the register for malpractice.

We know that the disciplines of marketing are as relevant today as ever, provided they are applied with diligence and followed with consistency.

John Dalla Costa himself inadvertently proves its value because he cites companies such as Apple and The Body Shop as examples which have ‘outcustomered’ their (usually bigger) competitors.

If he wants to reinvent a new discipline called ‘customering,’ instead of marketing, that’s fine with us.

What’s important is that companies like Apple, following the basic rules (which are mostly applied common sense: remember the one about giving customers what they want, not what you can make most easily?) of marketing, outmaneuvered much larger companies such as ibm.

The rules of marketing are clear. There are many of them. As consumers and markets go through periods of fundamental change, we may have to be more imaginative in the way in which we apply those rules.

But the value of differentiated and quality brands and companies which follow the rules is as strong as it ever was. The simple truth is that weak or poorly trained marketers will also perform weakly.

The solution isn’t to kill marketing.

If companies really have downsized in order to clear the decks, the second areas (after r &d) in which they ought to ensure full strength is in marketing.

Particularly since both globalization and demographics are causing a fundamental restructuring of the marketplace.

There are complex things going on, whose outcome we’re all struggling to predict and understand.

In this environment, there’s a greater need than ever for some of the skills, disciplines, insights and dedication which only marketing (or whatever John chooses to give it) can bring to volume and profit growth of companies.

Jake McCall

Senior vice-president, strategic planning director

Backer Spielvogel Bates