Leading marketing professor asks if marketing is too slippery


The Marketing Channel radio show has aired the first part of a two-part interview with marketing planning guru Professor Malcolm McDonald, and it has proved quite controversial. The radio show is presented by Kiran Kapur for Cambridge Marketing College with Star Radio and airs weekly.


In the interview, Prof. McDonald gave his frank view that all is not well in the world of marketing. In his two part interview, he voiced his concern about how marketing is viewed by other management disciplines. He quoted a 2007/8 study of what CEOs think of marketing, which found that marketers are not trusted and even seen as wasteful. Research by Cranfield Business School showed that Marketing is viewed by senior directors and managers as slippery, expensive and unaccountable.

He argues this is because marketing has forgotten the importance of bottom line profit. Instead, it has become obsessed with relationship marketing, which he describes as “happy-clappy, touchy-feely, muesli and open sandals, all talking about delighting customers”. Delighting customers is the quickest way to go bankrupt, he suggests!

If this sounds surprising, it stems from his views on segmenting your offering. He argues that there is no such thing as ‘a customer’. Customers must be segmented, because without this, you ‘marmalade’ your offer across a mythical consumer, and risk not delighting any customer. But he is critical of the ways that marketers have chosen to carry out segmentation since marketers use “the garbage of socio-economics, demographics and geo-demographics, which are about as useful as a bird of prey with a squint”. He suggests that under socio-demographics, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Boy George are both socio-economic group A, but apart from wearing dresses and singing a lot, they don’t behave the same.

His solution: World class marketing needs proper Needs-based segmentation. But less than 15% of companies do this.

He is equally concerned that marketing has become relegated to digital content creation, which pushes marketing further away from the Boardroom. When lecturing, he uses a cartoon where the Head of Marketing is saying to a Board meeting: “It’s a pity our earnings per share are down 40%, but the good news is that our likes on Facebook are up 50%”. CEOs are not interested (he used a far more earthy term) in Facebook likes. Boardrooms are only interested in the bottom line.

Of course, digital is important. Once you understand segmentation you can use digital brilliantly, but you have to do the basics first, or digital is an expensive waste of time.

In part two of his interview, he outlines the future of marketing.  You can hear the first part of the interview here.





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