Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's Wrong With Marketing Today?

What’s wrong with marketing today?

By Harish Bijoor

Ouch! A lot of marketing folk will not even want to hear this question around. A lot of the oldies in the game tend to believe everything is hunky dory and right, as well.
This question is going to be junked the moment it is seen. Junked as a piece of rhetoric used just to get the attention it got.
What could be wrong with marketing after all? Are we not witnessing double-digit growth in many categories? Is there not plenty of excitement around with our mega-buck campaigns making it onto the Power jackets of newspapers? Are we not innovative as well? Are we not bending-backwards to get marketing noticed at large? And are we not winning all those awards at Cannes and everywhere else?

What then could be wrong with marketing?

If marketing people just got off the roller coaster, and if only we got off the 9 to 9 regimen of being a marketing man, woman or child, we would notice. The problem is one of people. The biggest P of them all!
The big is issue is out there and the worried lot are really the younger ones in marketing. In many ways the older ones have made their cocoons, padded them well and are quite happy with what they have. The fire though is burning elsewhere on this question. In the bellies of the young who have opted for marketing as a profession, and most certainly in the bellies of those who are just on the verge of choosing a career-track to follow.

The issues are out there staring at many. Let’s list some.

1. Young talent that is entering marketing is really not as committed to marketing as it should be. There are too many people who are here who just should not be here.
2. Marketing is not the best paymaster anymore. Finance is where the action is. Even HR is an exciting place to be in terms of money. There are just too many average marketing people around.
3. Where are the mentors? There just are not enough people around with time to coach the young entrant into Marketing. Youngsters are forever on a delivery-oriented mode. And on a limb. The accent for the young is execution and implementation. The planning role in Marketing is somehow appropriated by the ones at the top.

4. Marketing means just about everything today. 99% everything else and 1% branding is just not the right combination for the youngster seeking to make a mark in marketing. The youngster is getting painted into the corner of being “all legs and all hand” and no mind. Ouch!
The list can go on, depending which youngster in marketing you speak to, but let me stop.

When I look back at the issues that abound, I know what went wrong. It happened all but subliminally. Slowly but surely, one step at a time with actions that decimated what marketing meant to India and the Indian marketing professional in the days of yore. And 'days of yore' is just about 20 years ago.

It began in many ways with the bifurcation of sales and marketing as two separate streams altogether. Let me be politically in-correct. Sales for the less-conceptually oriented, and marketing for the more. Sales in many ways for the non-MBA entrant into corporate organization and marketing for the guy with the MBA-tag.

The moment this happened, the silo approach to marketing began. Sales became an acute specialization, which no marketing man wanted to touch, and marketing became an acute specialization that every sales person wanted to get into, but seldom could.
Proverbial nail number two hit into the proverbial cold coffin , when every sales organization that did its own direct selling into the market decided to out-source it all. Outsource it to distributors. The biggest companies in the tumult of marketing bid good bye to their own salespersons and offered distributorships that had the emergence of whole big tribes of distributors who are today a critical link between the company and its B2B consumers, the retailers.
As this happened, in the beginning the good practice of market working by sales, and in some measure by the marketing executives continued. What used to be considered standard good practice that meant visiting the distributor, working markets with the distributors’ salesperson, and visting retail outlets was slowly given up. Not altogether, but largely.
From a coverage span of 25 outlets per day of market visit; today the average executive in sales and marketing is doing all of 6. If not less. And the number of days in the market is quite another issue. From a healthy practice number of 10 days a month in market to the current possible 2 days in market.
Marketing people are therefore working markets less, and are in contact with their retailers that much less. Marketing people are visiting lesser number of consumer homes, and are therefore that much more divorced from their consumers. Marketers do not travel in the buses that their consumers travel in. Marketers do not watch “ Kunku” or “Bhagyalakshmi” which their consumers are umblically linked to. The sweat of the consumer is an alien sweat.

Marketers have over the last decade distanced themselves from their consumers. There is a certain overt reliance on aggregated approaches to a consumer who in reality is not aggregated at all. Reliance on consumer insight is totally basis dipstick studies that touch nano-segments of the consumer profile at large. Studying the consumer as a constituency of one is not done anymore. Everything is an aggregate. Everything is a cluster. And marketing is today itself a cluster-approach that does not seem to work as well as it should.
A pain-point with a lot of young marketing people I meet is the angst around the thought that marketing people do not grow into top management positions as fast as they used to in the past. It sure is true.

Marketing people will need to re-invent hard work as part of the regimen of being a marketing person. Hard work that is about spending a lot more time in the market, and with the consumer at large, rather than in Corporate Board-rooms with intermediaries who are into research, advertising or distribution alike. Intermediaries who bring a lot to the table, but just not enough. And not in the way it must.

Re-inventing marketing into a 1:1 process from the 1: All process it has become, will gain back lost respect, lost competencies, lost edges, and everything else that got lost in the process. Including lost promotions. Touche!

The author is a Brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
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