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Marketing's Biggest Challenge

By Christopher Kenton

RHETORIC AND REALITY. This is the dead-end paradigm in which marketing languishes today, and it's not only bad for marketing, it's bad for business. Amazingly enough, businesses know it. How many times have you heard a senior corporate excutive state that his outfit isn't a sales organization, it's a marketing organization? Sure, it's a marketing organization once a year, when it sets strategic goals to penetrate segmented markets in order to deliver customer satisfaction at a profit. The rest of the year, however, everyone still goes out and pursues whatever sale can be dragged over the doorstep -- even when that sale means the company will be blown off course by making commitments it isn't even remotely organized to fulfill.

You can blame businesses for this, but I lay the blame at the feet of my own profession. This is marketing's fault. This is the fault of a profession that has simply lost its bearings in a world that changed too rapidly. It can no longer provide effective leadership. How can marketing find its bearings again? Personally, I'm collecting definitions of marketing terms to get a breadcrumb view of marketing history and see where things might be headed. Here's an overview of what I've found so far.

The history of marketing shows very specific phases of growth, from distribution to merchandising, salesmanship, branding, advertising, database marketing, one-to-one marketing, and now, electronic marketing. There are a few clues in this history to the bigger pattern. First, marketing has always had a symbiotic relationship with technology. From the early days when getting your product to market required new forms of transportation, to radio, television, databases and networks, marketing and technology have always worked hand in glove. Second, the effect of this relationship between marketing and technology has been the steady reduction of the distance between the company and the consumer. In the early days, the company and customer might never cross paths, except by way of a physical product. Today, customers can increasingly buy products, obtain support, and interact directly with the manufacturer.

THE CHALLENGES. If you look at these two trends together, it says a lot about where marketing is coming up short today. Marketing and technology are natural allies, but while technology is in a phase of rapid acceleration, marketing is lagging behind. While some marketers have made effective use of new technology, far too many marketers are still just figuring out how to browse the Internet. There are many areas where they should be working together to reduce the distance between company and consumer, including the continuing evolution and deployment of effective customer-relations-management (CRM) tools -- an area still solidly in the hands of IT alone, just like a piece of software.

As the economy slowly stirs back to life, businesses need to examine their own definition of marketing. We need to understand the notion of profit as central to the meaning of marketing, and therefore demand greater accountability. We must understand the historical dependence of marketing on technology and, therefore, demand closer ties between marketing and technology teams. We need to understand that the tightening relationship between businesses and consumers is integral to success, and therefore demand a greater emphasis on customer experience as a core marketing function. Most of all, we need to understand that marketing plays a critical role in the success of every business. When marketing doesn't measure up, simply limiting its charter doesn't the solve the problem if the very definition of the concept is weak.

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