What are the main challenges and changes in marketing? Andrew Whalley explains!
In your textbook “Strategic Marketing” you describe classic marketing instruments and methods. What would you say is the main element that has changed in how marketing is approached in the past 10 years?
I think the biggest change to how marketing is approached in the last ten years is the continued evolution of branding as a central tenet to strategy, specifically the realisation that customers can now talk with each other very easily using a variety of digital platforms and as such they co-create value with the narratives they share between each other alongside the narratives created by the brand owners.
This places much more emphasis on an understanding of customers’ needs and on the speed with which brands need to react to them and their comments, it also allows for the development of new products to be cooperative – the use of crowd sourcing for development, for flash mobs in marketing communications etc. are good examples on the way this is trending.
More and more companies are tuning in to short-term marketing strategies. In your opinion, where does this development originate from?
I think the focus on short-term strategy is a direct result on the volatility of the macro-environment in which most companies now operate. IF you look at the factors we consider in the environmental audit almost all of them are now subject to constant change, and in some cases very rapid change.
What are the consequences of focusing on short-term instead of long-term marketing strategies?
Personally I think that the issue with a string of ‘short-term’ strategies is that it is easier to ‘diverge’ from the original set goal, it is a little like steering a car. You think you a going straight but even a small ‘deviation’ left or right is gradually built on, until you are very far from where you intended.
So, for me it’s a question of a lack of coherence and cohesiveness between the strategies, that’s why when planning a budget it is always good to have long term time horizons that are loosely planned alongside short-term horizons that are much more tightly planned. In marketing plans it can easily lead to a confused set of customers who don’t know what the business stands for and thus don’t know what to expect.
One problem experts note is that marketing departments are often not involved in the overall strategy or goal of a company. What is the best way to include them into the company’s vision?
For me there is a confusion in exactly what marketing is and isn’t, and that extends to departments that are called marketing when what they actually are is advertising or marketing communications. We need to understand that any process that is customer focused and develops strategy out of that is a marketing process, whether it’s done by a marketing department or by a planning department.
I suspect the question comes out of planning and strategy that is focused on the products, services and business goals and which is therefore not really marketing in the true meaning of the word. As such the best way to get marketing involved is to create a philosophy within the business, and understanding amongst the employees, that the customer is the core focus of the success of the business – classically we call this the highest level of marketing: marketing as a business philosophy.
Indeed the ‘mission statement’ of a business run this way should mirror the process in how the goals are expressed, in that way each employee can judge their own daily activity by the main metric that truly counts – is what I’m doing helping satisfy a customer or helping another employee to do so. Outside of that it is have a clear process of environmental scanning inputting to product and service development, irrespective of which department they are part of, together with a clear mission statement to act as a touch stone. That is really the second level of marketing – strategic – which is the most common in practice.
What are the benefits of a marketing team working towards concrete goals to fulfill the company’s vision?
The idea is that marketing is a conduit – two way communication – so teams are there as the advocate of the customer to the business but also as the advocate of the business to the customer too. Practically that means avoiding nasty surprises from changing customer needs, changing prices, competitors but also managing customers’ expectations pro-actively thus building a bond of trust and reliance. Such trust and reliance becomes expressed in continued purchasing activity and thus impacts directly on the bottom line and on the brand equity. Get it right and it’s a virtuous circle. So for me there are very concrete reasons for involving ‘marketing’ from a philosophy viewpoint but equally compelling reasons from a financial viewpoint.
What challenges does a career in marketing entail?
I think the diversity of ‘markets’ that exist in contemporary terms means that in terms of a career in marketing there isn’t a blanket answer to the question in many ways. That said I truly believe that there are some issues that will pose challenges to marketers in terms of the skill sets they are going to need:
- An understanding of metrics and accounting – contemporary marketers will need to understand budget sheets, financial statements, how and what to measure
- An understanding of effectiveness and efficiency – knowing the difference and how to apply them in context
- An understanding of research – what are the best methods in context, what information can it give
- An understanding of technology – how it applies to the business and to customers
- An ability to communicate – getting the message across internally and to customers
What is the first step students should take if they want to pursue a career in marketing?
The first step I would recommend to a student who wants to pursue a career in marketing is to actually get some experience of working with customers, either as a job, or as an intern or a volunteer, or even as part of a club or organisation where they are a student. The second recommendation would be to read as widely as possible on the subject as a whole. Nothing beats experience and knowledge when it comes to securing work.
About the author: Before joining Royal Holloway University of London, Andrew ran a successful marketing consultancy after several director level commercial roles in International marketing and sales.
If you would like to further expand your marketing knowledge, then Whalley’s free eBook “Strategic Marketing” is the right choice for you. You can download it for free.