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Does Marketing have a Positioning Problem?

I keep seeing articles declaring the death of the Chief Marketing officer and others hailing the rise of the Chief Customer Officer, Chief Experience Officer and other new positions promising, at the bare minimum, to revolutionize the old Chief Marketing Officer role and the companies they serve.

  • According to The WSJ, the average tenure of a CMO in 2019 is now at 41-months. Not the tenure any company should have for a critical C-suite role

  • In almost any business you could ask, “What is Marketing?” and get radically different answers. That’s never a good sign.

  • If you look online, you’ll get a wide variety of definitions for Marketing. Can’t HBS just give everyone the same definition?

  • And, in many companies you might hear, “We don’t really do much marketing” or “We don’t need marketing, we need...”


All of this has me wondering, “Does Marketing have a Positioning Problem?” The irony is not lost on me that the answer to the question could be, “Yes.” The people who are most knowledgeable about positioning should be able to effectively position what it is that they do for businesses. But the simple - and rather disappointing - answer to the question is a resounding, “Hell, Yes!”


But, what’s really driving this problem? Here are a few thoughts from a recovering marketer:


1. A simple lack of common language and definitions


Ask any accountant what EBITDA is, you’re going to get the same answer. If you ask a lawyer to define a contract, they may use superfluous words, but you’ll get a consistent answer. If you ask a carpenter to describe a jigsaw, they will all describe the same thing. But if you ask a marketer to define “Brand” or “Branding” you’ll typically hear one of three answers:


  • A consistent look/feel and language consisting of a logo, color palette, fonts

  • A type of advertising that speaks to your business or product at a high level in order to build overall affinity at the top of the funnel rather than an immediate action somewhere throughout the funnel

  • The overall perception that you build through every interaction the public has with your business, products, employees, etc.


If you believe the right answer is C, I’m right there with you, but that’s a battle for another day. The point is if marketers can’t agree on basic definitions, how can marketing show clear value that’s being brought to the table.


2. A mistaken belief that marketing has changed beyond recognition


Things change. All the time. In every corner of business. And while today’s marketers have a plethora of new tools and channels available to them, the fundamentals of marketing have not changed. Marketers still need to understand audiences, determine their customers’ needs and figure out how their business can solve those needs better than anyone else in the market.


Easier said than done, but that leads to the main reason why marketing has a positioning problem…


3. A fundamental misunderstanding of the true scope of Marketing:


The prevailing perception in most companies is that marketing is one of, or a combination of advertising, communications, digital marketing or similar functions. And, yet, anyone who has taken Marketing 101 in college learned that the four Ps of marketing are Product, Price, Place & Promotion. There’s obviously a disconnect if individual functions that don’t even make up the totality of the fourth P are considered the full scope of marketing.


The fundamental job of marketing is to understand the needs of potential customers and then adjust the levers of the four Ps to properly position your business (product or service) to best address those needs. That means that Marketing is really the epicenter of any business - whether your company treats it that way or not - and the CMO role should be one of the most critical positions in any business. But, that’s just not how marketing is viewed and that’s not how the CMO role is treated in most organizations.



These types of issues would destroy most businesses, so it’s not hard to understand why the marketing leaders are feeling so much heat regarding their role and the marketing function overall. And, calling marketing or CMO roles something else won’t fix the problem. So, my marketing friends, how do you want to solve this?


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