Gordon gets a firm grip on marketing

Colin Gordon produced a report on the true meaning of marketing. He says everyone thinks they know what it is, yet no one can define it.

Here’s a starter for 10. What is marketing?

Well, it’s about 100 years old, is estimated to account for €1.5 trillion in spend and has an estimated 10.6 million LinkedIn profiles with ‘marketing’ in the title. It is part of our daily narratives and culture – the brands we know, the ads we recount. There are over 100,000 books with ‘marketing’ in the title on amazon.co.uk and there are some 500 third level courses at Level 7 or above. But what exactly is marketing?

Definitions abound, often just derivative versions of each other but dozens upon dozens of them exist. A marketing manager at a mid-sized Irish FMCG company with a mid-sized marketing budget can spend over €120m over the course of a career. Doing what? At a time when retail is changing so radically, when consumer communications are in such a state of flux and even the idea of ownership is challenged through brands like Spotify the question of what is it that marketers are doing has never been more important.

All the more so when marketing is so often the first in line to have its budgets cut to deliver short-term performance requirements. The same ‘what is it?’ query or doubt doesn’t apply to finance, or legal, or even production. Everyone knows what they do and what results may be expected. There are rules – do X and Y happens. Where is marketing in this space?


I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this for some time and to help me I commissioned B&A to do bespoke research among marketers, consumers and agencies across media, creative, PR and events. The results were stark. In brief, agencies tend to have a broader and longer view of what marketing is. They are six times more likely to see marketing as driving sales and 10 (yes 10!) times more likely to see it as being focused on return on investment.

Marketers are more likely to see marketing as ‘communications’, which is only part of the issue. I’m not saying agencies are better, or that marketers are wrong. What’s important behind the data is to try to grasp the why. Why would marketers be so focused on communications and much less so on sales growth/results or return on their investment?

The research then asked what marketers do to measure performance and the disconnect between what measures of which they were aware, what they use regularly and what they brief to their agencies becomes apparent. The research pointed clearly to marketers being more likely to brief their agencies on a required sales metric than they are to use it themselves; the same applies to overall profitability as a measure of effectiveness.


Marketers rarely use brand saliency internally, even though research shows they are fully aware of it. But they will then brief this as the required metric for performance for their agency output. Ditto customer effort scores, or CES. Worryingly, the results of our survey more than hints that marketers do not even use all the tactical tools available to them, focusing more on such items as short-term pricing activities.

They don’t use the full range of research methods available, seemingly more comfortable with the regular formal research sources. Not that clients don’t trust the agencies. In the only ‘perfect’ score in the survey, marketers unanimously declared full confidence in their agencies. It must be a bit like a football manager getting the chairman’s endorsement.

The survey points to marketers changing their agency regularly, especially in media and creative disciplines, with up to half of all those who responded to the survey changing their agency within four years. To add to the disconnect between marketers and their partners, agencies see the quality of briefs as below average and deteriorating.


Why? My theory is that marketers are busy being busy. Busy doing price promotions, which is good for short-term volume boost but a drug requiring regular use by the addict. Or,  changing agencies – easy to explain to non-marketing colleagues and keeps you busy for months. Busy doing pack or flavour extensions or attending trade shows. But those are only tactics. Marketing is so much more. The general public in the survey put their finger on it. They see customer service as more important than any other company function.

That’s where the rubber hits the road.

Marketing is always about the transaction and building consumer loyalty. It’s not even necessarily a separate function. It needs to know the market, the consumer and the company well enough to ensure all blockers and/or enablers key to delivering the requirement of making selling easier are identified and either mitigated or enhanced.

It may involve communications; it may involve promotions – but not necessarily. It’s about identifying all the touchpoints within and outside the organisation which will help drive sales and repeated sales: customer loyalty. It’s not about spending the money “because it’s in the plan” but because it will help the job of making selling easier – easier, and effective.

This ‘touchpoint’ approach shows the diffuse and diverse nature of marketing. It’s not about being trained – or as some call it educated – on the merits of one form of communications over another, using CTRs, CPTs, TVRs, Likes, Friends, listening or whatever. Focusing so much on communications is far too naive. Marketing is a mix of psychology, social science, behavioural economics, legal, people management (HR), finance, merchandising, project management, building coalitions throughout the company and beyond.

This diffusion is part of the reason marketing is so hard for the excel-junkies in finance, ops, or even sales to understand or often even accept marketing. It’s more an art than a science. Go back to definitions. If we don’t know what it is we do, don’t know what is the measure of performance, don’t build long-term partnerships with our key service providers (agencies et al), have poor quality of agency interaction and don’t even use all the tactical tools available, it’s no wonder marketing gets a kicking when times get tough.


It’s time to return to basics.

Marketing is all about making selling easier, or as I like to refer to it, MSE. The measure of performance must be sales/revenue – salience, NPS and CES scores, CTRs, Likes and so on are only inputs to the repeated sale, not the sale itself. MSE requires the marketer to be a generalist, open to ideas and information from a wide spectrum of sources.

The marketer must be capable of blending all these together to form a plan which will be understood and supported throughout the company and, where relevant, by retailers en route to the consumer precisely because all of their issues, ideas and experiences around making selling easier have been identified and included. That’s why we refer to the marketing mix. The receptionist, truck driver or invoice document are as key here as the TV ad.

Marketing brings it all together.

Colin Gordon is the founder of Engage Consulting. He has held senior marketing and management roles with C&C Group and Glanbia. His non-executive directorships include Bord Bia, RDS, Marketing Institute and Concern Worldwide; colingordon0408@gmail.com



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