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Marketing is everything, then and now

Mike Hutcheson explores how the decades of the 70s and 80s were the halcyon days of advertising, and what we can learn from the past.

Ad Agencies were the de-facto Marketing departments of their client companies. Agencies dealt directly with entrepreneurial CEOs and were the ideas factories of commerce, involved in the overall marketing mix.

We started to lose our place at the corporate top-table after the stock-market crash in the late 80s, when globalisation saw first-generation entrepreneurs gave way to second-generation managers and multi-nationals swallowed up our homegrown businesses.  That coincided with de-regulation of the industry – diminishing media commissions – and a growing influx into business of marketing graduates from our universities.

Their arrival introduced the notion of marketing as a separate discipline within a business, and sadly Ad Agencies slowly drifted into the organisational mist, out of sight of the top-floor corner office, relegated to just producing ads, leaving the strategic thinking to others. 

This is particularly ironic as, over the years, Kiwi creative talent has, per capita, outshone the better resourced global giants of the world, despite their proprietary analytical tools and access to data. When it comes to ideas, local creative talent trumps global methodologies.    

Through the late 80s and 90s, the corporate control pendulum swung away from entrepreneurial marketers to cost-cutting bean-counters and has not yet swung back. Ad Agencies started to become the colouring-in departments rather than marketing departments. 

It’s time for it to reverse. We no longer hear of companies calling out for more accountants, but we do hear of them calling for more innovators and marketers.

The business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. “

So said Peter Drucker.

Like Drucker, it is my firm contention that Marketing isn’t a function within a business – it is the fundamental purpose of the business. It is the umbrella under which all other functions should sit. 

A business having a separate Marketing Department is as ludicrous as a church having a separate Religion Department.

Sales is a function, finance is a function, distribution is a function, manufacturing and procurement are functions, but marketing is a philosophy, it’s the reason the business exists. Marketing is about running a business with the end-consumer in view, understanding why customers want something and making sure they get it where, when and how they want it. While technology and media trends change rapidly, basic human needs don’t.

Advertising is the shop-front of marketing and ad people need to get back to the top table by offering the thinking and insights that their predecessors did 40 years ago.

Operational departments are transaction-focused. They are dedicated to business-as-usual, achieving results day-to-day and generating income.  However there is always a tension between short and long term horizons – and short is the enemy of long. Innovation is a constant cycle of staying curious and understanding how to meet unfulfilled customer needs for products or services. Salespeople sell products, marketing people sell solutions.

There is a classic story of a marketer at Stanley Tools for whom the penny dropped when he realised the average home handyman is less interested in the drill than the hole.

“At Stanley, we don’t sell drills. We sell holes.” 

That’s the difference between a marketing and a sales approach. Marketing is focused on understanding why customers buy. It’s more about heart than head.

To engage the heart you have to tell stories. The customer has to love you, not use you. You have to know what people really feel to understand their behaviour. And that’s about asking the right questions.  

There is an old conundrum that goes; if a tree falls over in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, is there any sound? 

The answer lies in the semantics, not in physics. It’s not about science, it’s about the story.

By asking the right question a storyteller is more likely to get the answer than is a physicist. A storyteller would look for the meaning of sound. He would know that all the measurable physical conditions exist to enable sound to occur, but the sound is defined not as waves, but as the action of those waves on the organs of hearing. Ergo; No one there; no organs of hearing; no sound.          

The World Economic Forum report says the most important skills required in the coming decades are Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and  Creativity.

It’s my firm contention that the best people to provide those skills reside in the ranks of Ad people with over-the-horizon radar. Innovation is about staying current with technology,  media trends and the ability to predict future needs. 

The future is by definition, imaginary. Why then, is planning for the future often left to people with no imagination?

It has been my privilege over the years to have worked with some of the country’s greatest ad talent, I reckon there are none better to provide the future skills needed than home-grown Ad people who have consistently proven to be among the best in the world.

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