In today’s society, business contexts rapidly change in every possible sense. Customer needs change and technologies evolve, which demands that organisations must become more sensible towards their customers. This, however, is not possible in the ‘old-fashioned’ way of marketing, where marketing is seen as sales-supporting activities that end at the moment of the customer’s purchase decision.
What happens after the customer’s purchase decision, on the one hand remains a black box and on the other hand is strangely not marketing’s concern. In order for marketing to be successful in this day and age, its position and image need to change. This implies to look at marketing from a process-oriented, promise management view, which serves the very nature of marketing best. In this view, marketing is an organisational wide concept that is practised by different departments and not by one organisational function. Seeing marketing through this lens offers us a broader perspective where every employee, regardless from which department, becomes a ‘part-time marketer’. This creates new opportunities for organisations.
Challenges of a traditional view on marketing
Traditional views on marketing are often linked to one-way communication and in-house value creation. Moving back to McCarthy’s 4P model (known as the marketing mix), developed in 1960 and dominating ever since, marketing is positioned as a rigid and inside-out perspective. Despite it admittedly has been a useful tool and adopted by many management teams, the key aspects in this marketing mix – product, place, promotion, price – are reasoned from the company’s perspective. This means a true outward perspective is left out of the question. Approaching marketing from a ‘marketing-mix-management-approach’ leads to the situation where it is merely the function of one department. In this fashion, marketing cannot survive because of its isolation, and as a result not a top management’s priority. In addition, the 4P model focuses more on the B2C contexts up till the moment of purchase. Therefore, on the one hand it is less suitable for more complex processes involved in B2B contexts and on the other hand it does not focus on what takes place after the moment of purchase. Moreover, models such as the 4P model do not resonate with the rise of ‘servitisation’, meaning that service becomes more and more important in business models of organisations.
Marketing moves towards a promise management view
In essence, marketing is all about understanding (customer) value, facilitating customers in their value creation processes and communicating and delivering the organisation’s offering in the right way. Marketing is a customer focus that permeates organisational functions and processes. It is geared towards making promises that eventually contribute to both the customers’ and other stakeholders’ wishes. For organisations, it implies they have to support the customer’s value creating processes in order to fulfil the firm’s promises. In practice, this means that firms should stick to its promise before, during and after the moment of purchase. So, when proposing a certain offering to customers, it eventually should be realised.
Impact on practising marketing as an organisational wide function
Since marketing becomes an organisational wide function, every department is in some sense related to marketing processes. Actually, every department must do something with marketing processes. R&D managers, business developers, customers service representatives, sales managers and logistic managers are all involved in some way in understanding customers and fulfilling the firm’s promise. They are responsible for supporting the customers’ value creation. This means that there is not just one ‘marketing department’. Instead, organisations have full-time marketers (who are fully occupied with marketing activities and hired for this) and so-called ‘part-time marketers’ (which is every other employee in the organisation). Every employee thus contributes to making and keeping the firm’s promise towards customers as best as possible. This view on marketing pose radically new challenges for organisations.
It all starts with board commitment, but…
Marketing should turn towards an organisation wide phenomenon. For this reason, marketing has to become priority of top management. Top management should break free from the idea that finance and sales are the only first priorities. Marketing should be one of these major concerns too, especially for organisations trying to become more ‘customer centric’. Board management has to recognise the importance of seeing marketing as an organisation-wide function since it is the source of the customer’s value facilitation. So, in the long run – speaking in management terms – investing in marketing is a viable business case. Worth noting, the major danger of not dedicating marketing to all departments is that organisations will not be able to be truly customer centric and fulfil its promise.
However, board commitment is just a start. The idea that every employee is a part-time marketer should be known throughout the entire organisation and by each individual. This is the major challenge for organisations, since it takes time, effort and commitment. A way to overcome this challenge is to start with Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle of “Why? How? What?”. It is imperative to have clearly in mind what the rationales of existence are a company and what they do in what way. In other words, why do companies do what they do? How should companies do this? And finally, what should companies do serve their customers as best as possible? These questions form the core of an organisations strategic foundation and can be the company’s driving force. To turn into a successful one, each individual employee should be familiar with why organisations do what they do and how they do it. Moreover, the things they do for their customers should be spread throughout the organisation.
Another aspect that is important: understand the so-called customer’s jobs to be done. These are the goals customers want to achieve when using a product or service. If each individual employee understands what the jobs to be done are of customers, they could better serve customers. This applies for everyone, from customer service representative to senior business development managers.
Next steps for organisations
The above-mentioned implications form a starting point for organisations in moving towards a promise management perspective on marketing. Still, there is a lot that remains. To keep up in the long run and organisations should continuously invest in making their promise as best as possible. For example, through educating and training employees in different fields. A couple of questions to take into account: how to communicate towards customers or what are the factors that create a ‘wow-experience’ for customers? These are relevant issues for organisations. They have to make sure that the organisation’s core values as anchored into the communication towards customers. As such, employees are able to create a ‘wow-experience’. Another hands-on example is what employees have to do in conflict situations. In such instances it is of crucial importance that employees should be capable of problem solving and turn conflicts into positive experiences for customers. Another important aspect is how to identify customer needs through for example the right questions towards customers and observing their behaviour. These are aspects that make part-time marketers successful.
A waiter in a restaurant as a part-time marketer
Take the example of a waiter working in a high-class restaurant. This typical restaurant positions itself as a luxury restaurant where people can enjoy their evening with the finest food and drinks. The goal of the restaurant is to create a ‘wow-experience’ for their visitors. The waiter is the person who comes in contact with the visitors but also the one who communicates what the restaurant stands for. For this reason, the waiter should exactly understand and know what customers want, what and how to communicate to them, and how to treat his visitors. Looking at these activities, it is obvious that waiters are the perfect example of a part-time marketer. They are the ones that are not purely hired for such (marketing) activities, but it is an important aspect of their job. This example also illustrates that marketing is not just a one function of one department. It is an organisation-wide function where every employee contributes in making the organisation successful.
Make marketing a C-level priority and stick to your customer-promise
It all boils down to the nature of marketing. Marketing is a (continuous) process, not a structure. Marketing is an organisation-wide discipline, not a single department one. Marketing is rooted in every department of an organisation, consisting of full-time marketers and part-time marketers. Marketing is about making and more importantly, fulfilling promises. Marketing is, or should be, top management’s priority. All these factors focus on the processes that facilitate the customers and other stakeholder’s in their value creating processes. So, make sure marketing becomes priority and is widely embedded in your organisation.
Grönroos (2006) – On defining marketing: finding a new roadmap for marketing
Grönroos (2009) – Marketing as promise management: regaining customer management
Gummesson (2007) – Exit services marketing, enter service marketing
American Marketing Association (2013) (https://www.ama.org/AboutAMA/Pages/Definition-of-Marketing.aspx)