Talking about a revolution?

Talking about a revolution?

A book which promises a `revolution' in its chosen subject is setting a difficult, but easily measurable target and the reviewer has no alternative but to comment on whether the author – or, on this occasion, authors – have presented a radically new vision of the role, objectives or practice of marketing. The answer sadly is no.

The blurb quotes Nigel Howlett, executive vice president of Ogilvy One Worldwide: “Businesses need to rapidly adopt new methods and tools if they are to achieve the transformational change in marketing effectiveness they so desperately need.” Howlett believes this book provides an excellent introduction to the subject.

In my view, there is nothing really here that has not already been proposed, discussed or debated on a variety of other stages. But now that that issue has been sorted it is worth making the point that there are a few worthwhile ideas in this book which this reviewer would consider valuable.

The opening chapters relate the now familiar problems of the demise of the `golden age` of marketing communications when the entire population, or as near as made no difference, dutifully gathered around the family TV, the only one in the house and listened and watched in rapt attention to a stream of 30-second commercials.

The commercials promised to get your whites white and your dishes bright if you bought the correct brand of detergent. As long as cleanliness was next to godliness, mass advertisers were in Heaven and all was right with the world. As we all know that cosy little world has gone the way of the dodo, the Gaybo and the family rosary.

The book is at its best when outlining the problems facing marketing in the digital age, when it is becoming more difficult to build brands using mass media alone as the experience from an increasing range of `touch points` becomes more important.

Managing the customer experience then becomes the main task of the marketing department but many of the traditional tools are inadequate to the task.

Traditional segmentation based on standard demographic breakdowns are less powerful discriminators as different lifestyle choices take over.

David McWilliams's HiCos and Decklanders spring to mind here. Traditional measurements of customer satisfaction are also criticised for being too crude and too time-consuming to capture the fickle likes and dislikes of a mobile, protean generation.

The book prescription for dealing with a more individual, complicated, heterogeneous world is a combination of better segmentation combined with relationship marketing, or CRM, as the authors prefer to label it. It is not exactly a revolution, more a restatement of a 1,001 relationship marketing manifestos that have been launched during the last 15 or 20 years.

The authors define CRM as “a business strategy comprised of process, organisational and technical change whereby a company seeks to improve the management of its own enterprise around customer behaviours”, but their main point is that marketing must adopt a `sense and respond' approach.

This is defined as an ability to understand what the public really, really want as opposed to what they say they want. At this point, you begin to wonder if this was not always the case. In the mid-1980's when the Japanese economy posed such a serious threat to the West, marketing departments were regularly warned that their main function was to anticipate what consumers wanted before the Japanese provided it.

But perhaps the most important contribution this book can make to current thinking is to remind us that marketing is not a department but a central, if not central, function of management. The task of attracting and retaining customers must be the driving force of the whole organisation, and not just the preserve of one department.

The book's case for Irish readers is not helped by referring to this country as `Eire' and to our drink culture as “for young people a holy trinity of drinking was followed by the young men: Harp lager followed by Smithwick's beer, followed by Guinness when they finally grew up”. Odd for a book which was published in 2005.

Although none of the chapers are assigned to any one of the four individual authors – namely Paul R Gamble, Dr Alan Tapp, former IBM executive, Dr Anthony Marsella and Prof Merlin Stone – I cannot help feeling that they were written separately, which would explain why the arguments don't flow as well as they should.

There is good stuff here, but the overall verdict must be the same as the immortal Tommy Ellis line from the days when radio jingles were performed by live musicians and he remarked after one rehearsal: “That's great, really great lads, but could we just try one more time cause youse are a little bit all over the place”.

John Fanning is author of The Importance of Being Branded – an Irish Perspective; Liffey Press

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