Marketing has been around for about 50 years. Of course what we call marketing has been around a lot longer than that. It began when the first people moved from caves to the fields and produced more food than they needed to survive. The surplus was exchanged for other goods or services and markets were established. As artisans began to sign the products they made and started to develop a reputation that, for example, their pots were of higher quality, brands were born. But none of this was called marketing – the noun ‘market’ only became a verb, ‘marketing’ in the middle of the last century. The notion of brand marketing as we understand it today can be traced back to the explosion of self service supermarkets. Without the simple endorsement and advice of a shopkeeper, companies started to manage their brands and began developing brand strategies. These strategies encompassed understanding and segmenting markets, targeting particular consumer groups with a consistent presentation of the brand and its benefits and organizing all the advertising, merchandising and promotion of the brand to this end.
Procter & Gamble take the credit for the processes we still use for developing brand strategies and brand management. Their advertising as part of popular TV shows gave us ‘soap operas’. When marketing came of age as a business function, selling and advertising became seen as specialist disciplines, vital to marketing but not synonymous with it, although that is not necessarily how people outside marketing see it. If you talk about business marketing ideas to someone who is not in marketing they would expect you to be talking about advertising and sales promotion. Marketers on the other hand see themselves as a profession that encompasses these activities but are not defined by them. They see a marketing organization as one that makes what it can sell – which requires marketing and developing brand strategies – rather than one that sells what it can make – which only requires a production and sales mentality.
Marketing has its own professional organizations around the world. The American Marketing Association began in 1937 and the UK Marketing Society celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2009. Both had strong roots in an association for market researchers rather than brand management, as they do today. However, having a professional association is not the same as being a profession. It is very debatable whether marketing can truly be seen as the latter. There is very little by way of professional codes and ethics in marketing and it is infuriatingly inconsistent in terms of the jargon and terminology it uses. Brand equity means very different things to different marketers and there are no professional standards for how it is measured or valued. Furthermore, if you look at marketing in terms of top marketing consultants the various specialisms of marketing become apparent. They may call themselves marketing consultants but very few if any cover all aspects of marketing. General purpose marketers are only to found inside companies, effectively the brand managers first designed by P&G. The top marketing consultants who sell to them and their boards focus on various specialist activities such as market assessment and segmentation, innovation, marketing metrics or brand design. They offer business marketing ideas and solutions but only in their niche field.
Which begs the question, will marketing survive the next 50 years as a business function or department or profession? Marketing is a little like sociology. If you delve deeply into sociology you find yourself in one of the more specialist and coherent social sciences such as anthropology, geography, economics, philosophy and politics. Delve deeply into marketing and brand planning strategy and you similarly find yourself in more specialist and coherent disciplines such as those above. If you attempt to measure the value of marketing you very quickly discover that they are effectively business goals not simply marketing goals. The purpose of marketing is not to understand consumers or build brands or develop ads. They are processes that support the super-ordinate goal of creating profitable growth.
The purpose of business marketing ideas is no different to the purpose of any business idea. Nevertheless, Marketing and Brands are very well entrenched ideas even if precisely what they mean is not sharply focused. They will last a long time in our business vocabulary, but we are living through changes that will further dilute their meaning and devalue them. They were born in the height of a mass culture, mass distribution, mass media world, a world were business developed products for consumers and talked at them – the B to C world.