Everyone in Business Needs to Be a Student of Marketing

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When I was a student at Duke I wasn't much of a student—at least when it came to academics. Vastly preferring the lessons offered via extra-curricular activities, I gained a practical introduction to advertising by promoting various film series but in truth. Also, taking an actual marketing class was not an option. Well, that was a long time ago and the interest in and importance of understanding marketing has increased dramatically since then. There are now substantial curriculums at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, at Duke and across the country.

This transformation, perhaps paralleling the increased sophistication of the marketing industry itself, is palpable in the halls of Duke's Fuqua School of Business, where I had the chance to catch up with Christine Moorman, their T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration. In addition to being a marketing evangelist, Professor Moorman pioneered research among chief marketing officers in 2008. Now in its 11th year, the study she began then sheds light not just on the current state of the industry but also the trends that will test even the best students of our profession.

How important is it for the general education of a business student to understand marketing?

It's absolutely foundational. The purpose of the company is to create and keep a customer at a profit, and that's really what marketing does. It helps the organization identify, acquire and maintain relationships with customers. Think about everything else you could drop different aspects of. But you really do need marketing. It's a cross-functional game. And it needs to be that.

What are the key things that you hope your students will take away from your classes?

Finding that unique position in the marketplace and then really owning that across everything that the company does is the first thing, and then the second thing is managing the customer and brand as your most important assets. I think sometimes we think about the brand and the customer as afterthoughts. But they are the foundational assets, they drive everything else.

The third thing would be innovating new value. Because competition is going to come after you, whether it's coming from a new entrant or an incumbent in your industry, people will challenge you in the position that you're trying to establish. You have to make sure that you innovate over time and stay ahead of them.

When thinking of other facets of a company, do you believe they should be owned by marketing?

Yes, I do. I mean, own them in the sense that marketing should lead them. I think that's probably the key. Earlier I mentioned that this is a cross-functional job, so marketing does need everybody's support to make these things happen. But marketing should lead these activities that I mentioned.

Take revenue growth. Who else is responsible or should be responsible for revenue growth within the company? The CMO survey report said only about 30 percent of companies have chosen marketing to lead that task. One of the questions we asked in the most recent survey is "What makes a CMO effective?" We asked CMOs to rank a number of different indicators. The number one rank was being the voice of the customer at the leadership table. So that was absolutely the most important. But, the one that received the most top three votes was playing a key role in growth. I think that goes exactly to the role that marketers should play. And this is what ultimately makes them effective because again, who else understands where that opportunity lies? So, marketers do need to grab that responsibility.

Does your CMO survey address to difficulties in measuring marketing's effectiveness?

Yes. We've been looking at this question from the very beginning and asking, basically, how do you demonstrate the impact of marketing spending and the numbers are actually not very positive. In the most recent survey we find that, whether it's the short term or the long run, only about 38 to 40 percent of marketers report that they can prove their impact quantitatively. Another 43 percent or so report that they have a good qualitative sense but they can't do it quantitatively. Then, 17 to 19 percent report that they haven't been able to show the impact at all. I think this is an area that marketers struggle with. In part, it's really the nature of marketing.

Remember, we're not on a factory floor. We can't control the environment as easily as you could if you were trying to measure, say, efficiency improvements there. But what I can say is: I think marketers probably do too few experiments. There's an opportunity, whether it's on the web or in the field, to do more experiments because that gives them the foundation to actually say definitively, "You know we have this control group. We spent over here we didn't spend over there. We trained over here and we didn't train over there and we can actually see the lift as a result of that."

What gets you most excited about the future of marketing?

Part of what attracted me to marketing in the first place is that it is such a dynamic field and it's a field that's so important to the world in which we live. It's in our school, and when I look at all the different kinds of folks that engage in marketing, it's such a broad array. We have physicians in our classes, nonprofit folks, traditional marketers in CPG or tech. You have people running city governments who care about all the bidding that's gone on recently for the Amazon host. All of that is a matter of positioning your city in a certain way.

It's the full array of different kinds of people who engage in marketing, so the future is frankly a complete unknown to us at this point. I think that's what makes this so exciting and it makes it so that we cannot just rest on our set of gap rules or whatever we have. We have to constantly be innovating in this industry and that's what keeps me excited and makes me want to go into the classroom or write the next book.

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