Marketing, diagrams and despair

Earlier this week I attended a debate on the proposition “Marketing isn’t Working”. Like all such adversarial set ups it tended to revolve largely around semantics, though some contributions were insightful and entertaining. Including those by my Mutual Marketing collaborator Jennifer Kirkby and Beyond Branding co-author Alan Mitchell. (Sorry, shameless plugs I know).

But I came away intensely depressed by one of the speakers whose presentation revolved around a definition of marketing as (and I paraphrase)

“The management process of creating shareholder value by building trusted relationships with high value customers.”

When I hear stuff like this, I panic. I think, oh my god, is that really what marketing is? Is it really as dessicated as this? If so, I’m in the wrong trade.

Then to make matters worse he presented a diagram with loads of boxes, quite a generous allocation of arrows and lots and lots of jargon. With a long red arrow going back from the last box to the first.

Now let me be clear, some of my best friends like diagrams. But I nearly always hate them, and I certainly hated this one. Incomprehensible, jargon-laden and fatally reductionist. The worst of all worlds, too complicated for anyone to really understand in a presentation, yet woefully clumsy, reductionist and simplistic as a description of the great mysteries of what makes human relationships work.

Perhaps long ago this guy was an enthusiastic young marketeer, full of entrepreneurial drive. Now , sadly, long since ground down by the infighting and politicking of business, reduced to deeply unconvincing recitations of mantras about Shareholder Value. Look! Shareholder value, as measured by the stock market, oscillates on a daily basis and seems correlated as much as anything to the success of the England football team and the wildly fluctuating moods of the addictive and workaholic City traders. The stock market says shareholder value is down about 40% compared to a few years ago – but marketing hasn’t suddenly become 40% less effective!

To enslave any business process to that sort of casino strikes me as dispiriting, no matter how often businessmen nod in its direction.

And where does such a definition leave people doing marketing for charities, NGOs and other non-profits? Who often achieve remarkable success without any reverence to the notion of Shareholder value? It certainly can’t account for the delightful marketing success of things like the Resolution! dance festival I’ve blogged over at Mutual Marketing today.

And what about Society? Which has more than its share of people who aren’t anyone’s “highly valued” customer and don’t get a look in on this miserable definition?

Anyway, my despair has now gone away because I realise that this dreary stuff is, well, SOOO twentieth-century. There are plenty of people with a far more exciting, entertaining and engaging idea of what marketing is and can be. And I think, at least hope, the future belongs to them.

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