Article in Brief: This post summarizes two prominent marketing philosophies found in many businesses. Then asks you to choose the most appropriate one for yourself and your business.
by Keith Reynold Jennings
If you ask ten people to define marketing, you will get ten different answers.
And, therein, lies the problem.
What drives so much disconnect and tension between marketers, sales people and the C-suite is mal-alignment — different people defining and expecting different (sometimes contradictory) things from the marketing function. And on top of this, there are two opposing marketing philosophies at play in many businesses.
Expectation breeds resentment, they say. CMOs have the lowest average tenure in the C-suite.
In reality, this is very complex topic, with a lot of variables and moving parts. But I want to net marketing down to two macro philosophical lenses you’ll find in the majority of organizations today.
Lens 1: Marketing’s Job is to Serve the Organization Today
This lens is best captured in a quote by former Coca-Cola chief marketing officer, Sergio Zyman:
In his books and speeches over the years, Zyman’s rallying cry was this: “The job of marketing is to sell more stuff, to more people, more often, for more money, more efficiently.”
What this quote implies is this:
- Customers and employees exist to serve the organization
- Marketing is something done TO people FOR the organization
- The primary focus is the short-term…now
I used to be a big evangelist of this philosophy. I loved Sergio’s competitive spirit (still do actually). But I’ve come to accept that this isn’t sustainable for many organizations, especially small to mid-size service businesses, professional services firms, health systems and physician practices, nonprofits, churches, civic organizations, etc.
Lens 2: Marketing’s Job is to Serve the Customer Always
Peter Drucker offers a philosophical lens quite different from Zyman:
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well, the product or service fits him (her) and sells itself.”
What this quote implies is this:
- The organization and its employees exist to serve the customer
- Marketing is something done FOR and WITH customers
- The primary focus is the long-term…now and always
I come to love this philosophical lens. However, I accept that it’s not for everyone. If you are a leader or marketer in a publicly traded company or VC-backed startup looking to scale and sell, then putting the customer first and playing the long game will most likely cost you your job.
Your Job is to Align Marketing with Your Org’s Cultural Lens (or Get Out)
I want to challenge you to think about these two quotes and their implications on you, your business and clients. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Your situation and business culture drives which you can choose and successfully practice.
If you take the Drucker approach in a company chasing quarterly earnings, you won’t last long. And if you take the Zyman approach in an organization pursuing a mission and legacy, you probably won’t last long either.
We started this article with a root problem in marketing: mal-alignment. Knowing who you are and where you are are critical steps in ensuring your business and professional growth.
If after reading this, you find yourself wanting to practice marketing through a different lens than your situation allows, then you have a bigger decision to make, don’t you?
Keith Reynold Jennings is a marketing executive and writer focused on the intersections of servant leadership and modern marketing. Connect through Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook or email him directly. Sign up here to get next week’s article in your inbox.