It's time for Big 'M' marketing to fight back

Too many marketers sweat the small stuff and fail to see the bigger picture, Ebiquity's group chief executive believes.

It's that time of the year where ad industry people love to look into their crystal balls.

Fresh from a real or virtual pilgrimage to CES or Mobile World Congress, they return to work obsessed with tactics around artifiical intelligence, Internet of Things, robots, VR, and the increasingly-present VA.

But I fear that, as marketing has fragmented in the elusive quest for what’s next, it’s got lost.

The relentless focus on tactics makes one ask: How do all these tactical executions fit into a broader strategy? Has strategy become taboo in modern marketing?

As small "m" marketing trumps Big "M" more often than not these days, there are negative consequences for the impact this delivers.

As I see it, there are three main reasons why small "m" is winning out.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Every day, new links in the digital marketing ecosystem are forged. New platforms, tools, and technologies are added to marketing’s armoury. There’s so much that’s new – and so much that many of us don’t fully understand – that adoption of new tools can seem random and scattergun. But using a new approach just because it’s new – for fear of missing out – is tactical and knee-jerk, not strategic and considered.

Ever-shrinking CMO tenure

Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported average tenure among consumer brand chief marketing officers had fallen to just 42 months, down six months in two years. This compares with tenure for chief executives at 7.2 years and chief financial officers 5.7. With chief marketing officer tenure shorter than C-suite peers and decreasing, many have too little time to make their mark with Big "M" marketing. They’re driven by tactical not strategic imperatives.

Lack of focus on metrics that matter

Marketing budgets are under intense scrutiny and trust in the digital ecosystem is being challenged. By focusing energies on small "m" executions, it’s relatively easy to demonstrate success, whether reporting to clients or bosses. Yet real business impact is too often lost in a myriad of data points around operational metrics rather than genuine, data-driven insights that resonate with the C-suite. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Indeed, there are many brands whose marketing efforts are designed to do what marketing does best: win and retain customers, and deliver value.

These are brands that align tactical executions with broader strategies.

Whose leaders make decisions designed to secure long-term strategic gain rather than minimise short-term tactical pain.

Whose decisions make their brands super-useful because of the utility, information, or entertainment value they provide.

And whose marketers have real business impact; marketers such as Stephen Easterbrook at McDonald’s, David Kenny at IBM Watson, Johan Jervoe at UBS or Mark Evans at Direct Line Group.

Marketing leaders and their partners should follow the principles set out by Peter Drucker, who said: "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation."

With the baggage of being labelled tactical and not strategic, we’re seeing evidence that the C-suite is taking marketing less seriously.

The more this takes hold, the more likely it is that the chief financial officer, not the chief marketing officer, will be the next chief executive.

But where does growth come from if Drucker’s so-called ‘overhead functions’ are the very ones that are tasked with driving the corporate strategy? 

It takes genuine courage to challenge short-term thinking and drive long-term value. But with Drucker as their North Star, the marketing community has the chance to reverse the small "m" crisis that’s afflicted marketing for too long.

Michael Karg is group chief executive of Ebiquity

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