“The birth of marketing was all about improving people’s lives. People like Henry Ford (founder of The Ford Motor Company), used it to drive a social progress agenda. Brands have always played a pivotal role in society in helping people deal with their fears, anxieties and questions”.
I love this because it makes me feel good about what I do. It reminds me that the business of building brands is a worthy pursuit that makes life better for people right now and, in turn, into the future. I feel good that I may not be going to hell after all.
However, Mathieu’s observation also troubles me because it feels so revelatory and, let’s be honest, alien to the hard reality of modern day marketing. If ‘playing a pivotal role in society’ was what brands were born to do then why does it feel that so many of them have now grown up, left home, got a big job in the city and spend most of their days keeping up with next door in a battle for marginal advantage invariably played out via tactical communications channels such as TV advertising and measured in vaguely meaningful ROI numbers and plain abstract awareness and consideration scores?
My suggestion is that the answer lies with marketing itself – and specifically its maturity. Like the brands they seek to serve, maturing brings familiarity and, without constant renewal, familiarity breeds indifference and, in some cases, contempt as the tried and tested invariably trump the taking of new risk.
When marketing was born in the 1960s or thereabouts, it heralded a new era of business innovation built on a consumer-centric approach; understanding what people wanted and then giving it to them in unexpected and enticing ways worked so well it became business as usual. People became ‘consumers’ and marketing’s influence grew bringing with it good management practices, processes and protocols, such as market research and testing, that could be packaged up and passed from one marketing team to another as they rapidly turned over.
Spend a reasonable (but not especially long) amount of time with marketing people today and the effectiveness of these established ways of working becomes so apparent that it’s hard not to conclude that marketing as a discipline is now almost wholly about ‘what it does’ (processes/ short term growth) and not ‘why it is done’ (social progress/ lasting growth). Carry on like this and marketing will become largely disconnected from the wider corporate purpose as the ‘heat’ of delivering the numbers blocks out the ‘light’ of purposeful business.
This trend matters not because marketing has any divine right to survive but because it makes genuine innovation – today’s nirvana – even more elusive. At a time when finding unexpected, enticing and cost effective solutions to people’s present and future fears, anxieties and questions has never been more needed, marketing, the natural home of business innovation, must not slip any further down the corporate influence ladder. The reality though is that marketing cannot save itself and needs something more akin to a rehab-style intervention to get it back on the innovation track.
For this it needs outside help specifically in the form of two interdependent forces 1). A clearly defined and inspiring corporate-level ambition that prioritises genuine social progress over straight profit and 2). A more disruptive approach to innovation
While corporate level ambitions are numerous, disruptive innovation is more elusive. It can be found though. Take Nestlé’s new functional foods division, Health Sciences. Here we have a brand seeking “to shape a different approach to disease prevention and treatment designed for the modern age by creating a new model between the traditional food and pharma industries”. Loftier ambition you’ll scarcely find! It’s run by pioneering scientists and inspired by CEO level ambition. There is every reason to believe that this division will come to define an exciting new future for the Nestlé brand not to mention shape the strategy, products and services it offers across its many business units. What’s crucial to note is this is a new division, outside of the day to day running of Nestlé’s existing business and encompasses a range of new skill sets and thinkers. It tacitly accepts that business as usual folks are unlikely to deliver break through business innovation. Nestlé has managed to build a point of view on what will matter to people in the future and is building what it believes will be necessary to meet those needs in a way that is not only most likely of success but that will also not disrupt the day to day running of their established businesses. Sort of like marketing did when it first arrived on the scene.
Another, if more early stage, example is Unilever itself with its Sustainable Living Plan. Unilever wants to decouple their growth from their environmental footprint and has set 3 clear objectives around improving the health and well-being of a billion people, halving their product’s environmental footprint and sourcing of sustainable raw materials.
What’s a little less clear is exactly how Unilever intend to deliver this. The examples they cite so far tend to fall into the tried and tested marketing and, dare I say, self-interested category e.g. washing hands and teeth more often (with Unilever products) and buying Unilever concentrated detergents with reduced packaging. New innovation and probably a more defined view of the future is needed to help them make the big leap forward they seek. Maybe Mathieu’s recent support of ‘crowd sourced’ and ‘co-created’ brands will be just that? Whatever happens, what seems increasingly certain is businesses that prioritise social progress are here to stay which can only be a good thing for the future of us all.
To read more like this: http://fblog.futurebrand.com/?p=2501Social tagging: Branding > Business > consumer