Delusions Of Marketing Grandeur

In an article on, Jeff Mucci writes:

“More and more companies are attempting to become “marketing focused/led” rather than sales or financially driven….A bona fide, world-class marketing-led organization has a clear long-term focus on core items such as retention, customer satisfaction, customer experience management, and lifetime value of a customer. Conversely, a sales- or financially driven organization is primarily focused on acquisition, revenue, market share, and price/costs.”

I beg to differ. CMOs that think that they can change the prevailing culture of their organization may be suffering from delusions of marketing grandeur. World-class marketing organizations: 1) maximize their contribution within their firms’ culture, and 2) focus on retention, satisfaction, etc. and acquisition, revenue, share, and price/costs.

Where does marketing come off thinking its job is to change the prevailing culture of the firm? CMOs that struggle to demonstrate the ROI of their marketing investments are ill-advised to change the culture of the organization (unless the business is seriously dire straits, but that describes few companies).

Marketers gain credibility within their firms when they speak the language that the powers that be speak — and if the prevailing language is acquisition, revenue, share, and profitability, then that’s the language marketing should be speaking.


7 thoughts on “Delusions Of Marketing Grandeur

  1. I remember when it was all the rage for CEOs to claim their organizations were “marketing driven” as opposed to “sales driven” back in the mid-90s. It was right around the time everyone was reading The Marketing Imagination, and claiming to run a marketing-oriented company was the buzz-trendy way of saying you were strategic. Too bad marketing wasn’t able to capitalize on those days in the sunshine. Instead, we gave the world high-flying concepts like $100M sock puppets, and brand-led companies that didn’t need to be profitable as long as they were gaining mindshare…. Boy did that gain us some boardroom cred…

  2. Thanks for your comment, Chris. I’ve got nothing against being “marketing-driven” (or engineering-driven, or whatever). But, if a firm is enjoying success as a sales-driven firm, why in the world should it change to being marketing-driven? The answer: It shouldn’t. Some marketers are just going to have to live with the fact that they’re not at the center of the universe. Bummer. 🙂

    p.s. Chris — check back in a few days. I’ll be posting an entry on “measuring customer engagement” I hope you’ll find interesting, based on some of the entries on your site.

  3. The message in the article was not that companies SHOULD become marketing focused – it was simply that those who do cannot do so as easily as they think. To think that a company can focus on costs, sales and share along with acquisition, retentionm, etc. is delisional. They are conflicting priorities that will do nothing but confuse and alienate. Obviously the key word is focus – of course you must keep them visible and yes, they are important but will come with time in focusing on the customer not dollars and cents solely.

    If you do some research, you’ll notice that many world-class companies have made the switch very successfully. To think not is simply – as you put it, delusional.

  4. PS. Marketing can NOT (as you stated – and as did I) change the culture and direction of an organization. That is the CEO, President, top executive’s job. As stated in the article, it must be lived and breathed – top down. A sales driven firm only works for so long in most industries – especially one that requires repeat purchases (which is most wouldn’t you agree?. Eventually it will be time for the consideration portion again of the customers buying process – if you are not focusing on retention – meaning that you are focusing on acquisition – you will have a more difficult time. Especially if your competition is focusing on retention – it will then be harder to grow incrementally.

    Speaking the language of acquistion, share, revenue and profits to the powers to be is simple – but if you can’t deliver (if you’re unable to sustainably grow incremental business without M&A) then the alternative is to focus on your existing base and draw in new business by providing a world-class customer experience. Only then will it be safe to speak of such things.

  5. Thanks for the reply, Jeff. You say that “marketing can NOT change the culture and direction of the organization.” But who reads MarketingProfs? Marketers. If you’re not advocating that they play a role in changing and the culture and direction, then what exactly are you telling them to do? Sit back and wait for it happen on its own? If you’re preaching to CEOs, then Marketing Profs is the wrong pulpit.

    As for “doing the research” — I have. I spent nine years at Forrester Research doing the research. And what I’ve found (trying hard to sound too cynical) is this: Cultural changes often require external impetus.

    Jeff, please name names of firms that have successfully made the switch if you’ve got them. Because if you do, I wouldn’t be surprised if those examples involved the hiring of a new CMO who had the support of other senior execs to make the shift from sales-led to marketing-led, or firms that were seriously falling behind in their industry (but this would disqualify them as “world-class”, wouldn’t it?).

    My point is this: What’s the message to today’s CMO? Hire your replacement? Not a realistic recommendation.

  6. Thanks for clarifying your confusion. Marketing (as a dept) cannot change culture on its own without buy-in and support from executives – top down as stated in my article. All too often, marketing execs or CEO’s (or whomever) decide that marketing should lead the charge without fully understanding the impact and challange. Once again, my article was directed at those who are attempting to become marketing led – I’m not advocating that everyone should because it would greatly depend on the company, market, and various other factors. This must not be clear enough – but I believe that it states/implies this in the first paragraph.

    The intent in placing this on MarketingProfs was to help those marketing professionals whom are attempting to try to “change” the organization themselves – or to do so without buy-in from the top.

    I appreciate your experience with Forrester. That doesn’t necessarily make you an expert in marketing or culture change does it? Nor do I claim to be an expert – but I have been directly involved in this process – direct experience rather than reading/writing about it. I only have my and other’s experiences (as well as case studies) from which to draw conclusions.

    Firms that have successfully transformed into the “marketing-led” organization include: FedEx, Pitney-Bowes, MetLife, British Technologies, and CountryWide Financial to name only a few. I have spoken with C-level executives from each of these organizations within the past year personally. Each has provided their experiences and frustrations that occurred during the transition period which has helped me appreciate the extreme challenge associated with such a change. I don’t think that whether or not there was a new CMO, Vice-president or leadership change is what your argument was (or mine)? As for world-class, I consider companies falling behind in their industries that have the ability to adapt and rejuvinate their business/recreate their business model as ‘world class’ – wouldn’t you?

    The message to the CMO is simple – do what’s best for your organization. However, if you believe that to be changing to a marketing led organization, beware – it’s a daunting, but do-able challenge that has the potential to reap many rewards or conversely, fail miserably.

  7. I have been in both marketing led and sales led organizations. In working at the sales-led organization, it was clear to me that:
    – the company needs to have a leader and champion of becoming marketing driven
    – if the SVP of sales/marketing or CEO don’t “get it”, becoming marketing driven will be very difficult and slow. When this happens, the company struggles to get beyond being reactionary. Being sales driven usually means a company does not optimize performance and profits because core competencies are not recognized nor utilized. Sales people go after whatever short term opportunity smacks them in the face (to maximize their incentive pay) and hopes the rest of the company can react to their reactionary commitments.

    Marketing driven means taking a planned approach to short AND long term success by understanding the link between what customer/market unmet needs and a company’s core competencies. There must be a focus on the right opportunities that fit right for the company. I agree that silos cannot exist and everyone needs to be on the same page. Otherwise, silos will slow growth potential and the company will always be a market follower rather than a market leader.

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