Some black magic

Some black magic

As soon as national marketing societies or institutes began about 50 years ago, earnest, bright, well-meaning men, and increasingly women, gave up their time to sit on committees organising lectures, conferences and social and educational events.

Along with all this worthy activity they tried to come to terms with a series of nagging questions. Why is marketing not more central to business? Why are there not more chief executives from marketing backgrounds and most wistfully of all, how come governments don not seek advice from us marketers more often?

A new book, Marketing Genius – “the little black book of marketing” – is written by veteran British marketer Peter Fisk. The man, who also did time as the chief executive of the UK Charted Institute of Marketing, tries to solve some of these conundrums and bearing in mind the size of the task, makes a pretty good fist of it.

Marketing Genius is a difficult book to summarize, or to review. On the plus side it is beautifully designed, with a slightly unusual but a very user-friendly shape. It is packed with up-to-date, relevant and readable case histories and there is a series of well-designed, single-page flow charts for practical action on marketing problems.

On the minus side, although the book is neatly divided into five parts; 'ingenuity', 'thinking', 'competing', 'leading', and 'the genie', with each part further sub-divided into three or four 'tracks', it is not immediately clear – at least to this reviewer – how the 'parts' and 'tracks' are distinguished from one another.

The title is another complication. We are all trying to grapple with the idea that even the most unimaginative account executive and brand manager must be creative, it may be a step too far to imagine that they can all be geniuses.

The first three tracks deal with the everyday problems faced by marketing executives and offer a wide range of practical insights interspersed with relevant case histories.

The increasing pace and competitive intensity of business in the 21st century are well covered and Fisk makes it clear from the onset that he expects marketing managers to play a much wider strategic role than to bury themselves in the increasingly irrelevant and boring minutiae of adjectival abstractions.

There is a good section on value-added marketing with a number of useful charts which should help people to decide on how much each tranche of marketing investment actually contributes to overall profitability.
The section on branding will be particularly useful for anyone involved in service brands, faced with the important, but extremely difficult task of cajoling staff, especially those dealing directly with the public, to understand and actively promote the core brand values and enhance the customer experience in their day-to-day work.

In the last two tracks, 'leading' and 'the genie', the author's real objective becomes clear. Here he makes a powerful case for marketing's central role in all businesses and he sets out the main reasons why this has been so slow to happen: “For too long marketing has been perceived to be unaccountable, unfocussed and indisciplined in connecting its creative executions with business performance”.

Fisk is equally definitive about what needs to be done, when he writes “The energy that goes into marketing tactics needs to enhance more commercial thinking, better measurement and greater accountability”.

If marketing can become a little more accountable and involved with wider business strategy, then Fisk believes that marketing personnel are ideally placed to inherit the earth because more than ever businesses today must focus on the future and must be able not only to understand but be prepared to anticipate the public's needs.

The biggest challenges facing business come from outside not inside the company, but most companies concentrate on improving their existing practices, processes and procedures rather than understand and anticipate changing consumer requirements.
Marketing is the discipline that should be best qualified to do this.

Fisk claims that companies led by bosses with a marketing background “typically achieve significantly better returns to their shareholders”. He looks forward to the day when CEOs standing up to address a board meeting or writing in the first page of an annual report begin by discussing the company's brands, their current performance, and the proposals and investment levels that are being earmarked for their future.

No major companies operate like this but if more marketing people read this book and absorbed its lessons, then perhaps we can inherit the earth and worthy men and women on marketing bodies can concentrate on organising meetings and functions.

John Fanning is executive chairman of McConnells Advertising and the author of The Importance of Being Branded – An Irish Perspective, published by the Liffey Press – €26.95 paperback/€50 hardback.

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