23 Apr 2021

Whatever happened to marketing?

Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Marketing, argues that marketing has certainly lost touch with three of the fours Ps of the marketing mix.

Ten years ago the Harvard Business Review reported how business needs were changing and forecasted how the seven C-level jobs in the C-suite would evolve to meet them.

It saw little change in the status of Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer or Chief Legal Officer and expected the positions of Chief Human Resource Officer, Chief Operating and Chief Information Officers to strengthen.

But it was equivocal about the role of the Chief Marketing Officer. E-commerce was forcing sales leaders to grapple with some responsibilities that typically fell to marketing, and the lines between sales and marketing continued to blur.

Someone needs to represent the interests of customers in strategy and investment decisions, and HBR expected CMOs to step up. But generally CMOs have not made their mark in the boardroom.

The marketing media has reported a series of high profile promotions and demotions, with CMOs renamed or replaced by Chief Customer Officers, Chief Growth or Digital Officers, or even Chief Branding and Technology Officers. Many boards have dropped the idea of giving marketing a seat at top table.

There have been intense debates in marketing circles about its state and status, but marketing has clearly failed to live up to expectations.

As a passionate missionary for marketing, I also see companies failing to achieve their potential for want of a marketing perspective or customer advocate when business models, strategy and investment are discussed and decided.

So, what went wrong?

Over the last 25 years, marketing has been distracted and has taken its eye off the ball in three key areas:

  1.  Marketing has become preoccupied with short term campaigns and has struggled to demonstrate attractive returns on investment within a short timescale. Strong growth, brand building and the financial returns that accrue from them need time, as do significant changes in Product, Place, Pricing and Promotion (the famous four Ps of the marketing mix). The four Ps also need to be tightly integrated to work as a whole
  2. Marketing enthusiastically embraced every aspect of digital transformation. Agencies became digital agencies, marketing directors, digital marketing directors, and so on. Digital marketing measurement makes it easy to focus on ephemeral intermediaries such as likes, views and clicks, rather than important customer acquisition, sales growth or margin improvement
  3. Most marketing people have confined themselves to just one of the four Ps of the marketing mix, Promotion, or marketing communications, and they’ve neglected Product, Place i.e. distribution, channels to market, and Price. Hence the now hurtful gibes about the CMO being the CPO (Chief Promotion Officer) or, more scornfully, the CCO (Chief Colouring In Officer).

The problem is that these three Ps are too important to ignore. Other functions have to step in to fill the gap, and in doing so they’re eating marketing’s lunch. Product, Place and Price are three quarters of the marketing mix, and are in effect the cake, while Promotion is the decoration on the cake.

No one is excluding marketing, and marketing has no one to blame but itself, but by neglecting Product, Place and Price and focusing mostly on Promotion, it’s excluding itself from the seat of power and influence.

Customers need marketers to represent their interests in the C-suite, but marketers can’t get a seat at the top table without owning the four Ps of marketing.


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