Marketing: the discipline of growth

Doug Hey, Strategic Brand Marketing Consultant to Ashgrove Marketing and former senior marketer and executive for The Coca-Cola Company, explains why businesses need to give marketing the respect and resources it deserves

Marketing is an investment in growth. Contrary to some popular opinion, it is not about putting up posters or the next social media post: it’s a business discipline designed to drive positive value over time.

Marketing efforts should always support or even, in many cases, dictate the business model, its products, and offerings and how they interact as a portfolio to further the company’s growth objectives. Yet often I feel that many marketers don’t feel the pressure of that responsibility.

I fear that the age of digital marketing is breeding a sense of immediacy. A behaviour of short-term tactics that are often very hard to measure. This is more observable in small to medium firms where budgets are modest and apportioned opportunistically or sporadically at times through the year, instead of annually in support of a sustained and cohesive plan.

This type of ad hoc planning and lack of foresight results in erratic communication and campaigns. Nothing sticks and it doesn’t build or sustain brand equity. Consequently, the next wave of communication has to work just as hard as the first, rather than building on and supporting a growing base layer of awareness, understanding or growing love for your brand.

But why does this happen? If a finance director recommends funds be put aside for audit fees, or a manufacturing director advises an equipment upgrade, it’s usually done and approved without much fuss. So why, when we need to invest in the very thing that keeps the business running – the thing we can sell, and if done properly, sell for more – is there so little trust?

So often, only small sums of money are issued forth, and worst of all, there is a ready acceptance of no, or a poor, result from the effort.

I think that is the issue. Many business leaders seem to accept failure in marketing as if it is the way of the world. This is not good enough. If we bought a substandard piece of equipment or poor-quality ingredients, we would get poor quality, inconsistent products, or services.

So why hire marketers with no experience, or an agency without a strong proven track record? You would never put a rookie in charge of your factory or dealing room, or choose an untested team of lawyers.

Yet this is often what happens with marketing. A friend is trusted to design a logo or brand trademark for free. Somebody “cheap” is selected to write the social media strategy or copy. What this leads to is random communication with no link to the overall business and long-term plan.

If you hired a lawyer, you can be sure you’ll have an invoice for eye-watering sums of money for their advice. You pay that invoice and you listen to that advice. But with your most precious commodity, your product or service, so many people are happy to accept the opinions of spouses, friends and neighbours rather than experts in the field.

Is this because businesses don’t know how to measure marketing success? I think that’s part of it. I’ve been to many campaign kick-off sessions where I have asked what behaviour we are trying to change and what measure of equity are we trying to improve. It’s alarming how many times I am met with a blank stare.

In these instances, you have a team that are not working to a plan. But as a business leader, maybe this is down to you. Have you hired an experienced team who know where to start to build a plan for success? Is this team integrated properly into the business and aware of the strategic plans for the future?

Fortunately, the great thing about marketing expertise is that if you don’t have it in-house, you can contract it in. Much in the same way that you might hire a law firm to address a legal problem, you can benefit from a group of experienced, talented people and pay only for the work that is needed at that point. This gives you access to – and advice from – those who are skilled in the particular area that you need at the right time.

I strongly encourage anyone thinking marketing can be done on the cheap, or on a whim, to stop and think again. Get the right advice. Insist on a proper marketing plan that has clear deliverables and measures in place.

Marketing is a discipline and, if treated as such, has a much greater potential to create the business growth you are seeking.

  • Doug is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a Non- Executive Director. He owns a luxury branded product company that is developing markets in the UK, France, West and Southern Africa. With 30 years’ global experience at The Coca-Cola Company in senior marketing and executive management positions, Doug is a highly experienced classic marketer and business leader.