Ross Hastings: Marketing should be a culture, not a department

“We now have people working in departments who don’t identify as ‘marketers’ and don’t recognise their role in ‘marketing’ … and we have people working in departments called ‘marketing’, yet they don’t control or have the experience to manage all aspects of marketing.”

By Ross Hastings, managing director, Ne-Lo Business Design

The very essence of marketing is undergoing a profound transformation, reflective of broader changes in market dynamics, consumer behaviours, and technological advancements. This shift suggests that marketing can no longer be confined to a single department.

The evolution of marketing needs

The metamorphosis in marketing’s needs reflects a changing business environment where the 4Ps (product, price, place, promotion) have outgrown their original departmental confines. While anomalies, from PT Barnham to Phil Knight, mark the history of marketing, we’ve never before seen this company-wide approach at the scale we’re seeing now.

In a trend that’s most pronounced in the tech industry, ‘product’ has evolved into a distinct department and related practice, underscoring the need for specialised expertise in development and innovation.

Similarly, ‘price’ has, in many cases, transitioned into the realm of financial analysts, a move that underscores the strategic importance of pricing in competitive positioning and profitability.

‘Place’, encompassing the distribution and accessibility of products, has also evolved. With digital marketplaces and e-commerce sitting alongside traditional retail networks, the dynamics of place have become increasingly complex.

Among the 4Ps, ‘promotion’ remains most closely aligned with the activities of the marketing department itself, given its focus on communication and engagement strategies. However, the discipline of promotion has become more intricate in the digital age.

This integration of marketing functions across departments highlights the inadequacy of siloed marketing departments. Instead, a holistic, company-wide approach to marketing is necessary, where every employee understands how they contribute to a strategy informed by customer needs.

So, here’s the problem. We now have people working in departments who don’t identify as ‘marketers’ and don’t recognise their role in ‘marketing’, who are developing their own fundamentals. And we have people working in departments called ‘marketing’, yet they don’t control or have the experience to manage all aspects of marketing in a modern business.

‘Customer-centricity’: A synonym for marketing

Terms like “customer-centric” have gained prominence, embodying the principle that understanding customer needs and addressing them better than the competition leads to business success. That sounds a lot like marketing, right? Perhaps the term “marketing” comes with too much historical meaning associated with the marketing department itself, thus the emergence of alternative nomenclature.

Whatever the terminology, they’re all synonyms for a company-wide approach to marketing, representing an awareness that customer experience is no longer the sole responsibility of the marketing department and highlighting a cultural shift in modern organisations, where every employee is encouraged to adopt a mindset of putting customer needs at the forefront of all decision-making.

This language shift is important, highlighting that the desire is there – but perhaps lacking the model and methodology for success.

Brand reputation: A new age of custodians

Crucial to this transformation is an agreement that brand is the reputation of a business. Managing the myriad touchpoints that determine this reputation extends far beyond the capabilities of any single department. It necessitates a values-driven, aligned cultural mindset that embodies the fundamentals of marketing at every level of the organisation.

This shift underscores the necessity for CEOs and their executive teams to take collective responsibility for brand, leveraging the strengths and insights of various departments while maintaining a unified focus on delivering superior customer value.

Challenges and considerations

While the benefits of a marketing culture are clear, implementing it is not without challenges. Resistance to change, especially in well-established organisations, can be a significant hurdle. Aligning the entire company around a company-wide approach to marketing requires aligned leadership, a shared language, strong company mindset, and a clear change in methodology.

As the business world continues to evolve, the concept of marketing as a single department is becoming obsolete. Forward-thinking companies understand that maintaining an advantage in today’s competitive and rapidly changing environment requires removing distinctions between business and marketing strategy, and orienting every aspect of their operations around customer value creation. In these cultures, marketing permeates every aspect of the company. It becomes an organisational imperative ethos, and every employee understands their role in marketing and contributing to the brand’s reputation.

By fostering this culture of marketing, organisations can create more meaningful connections with their customers, drive innovation, and build a sustainable competitive advantage. This strategic reorientation not only redefines the role of marketing within the company but also sets a new standard for how businesses operate.

See also: Nina Christian: Marketing in the information overload age

Top image: Ross Hastings

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