THE Chartered Institute of Marketing’s new definition of marketing swaps brevity for verbosity; not everyone is convinced. What is marketing? Not what it used to be, according to the CIM, which has unveiled a new definition of the business function to replace one that has served for more than 30 years.
Marketing, it seems, needs a little more explaining than in the past. The CIM wants to replace the current definition, created in 1976, with the lengthier version it unveiled last week. The current CIM definition of marketing is: ‘The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.’
The new one is: ‘The strategic business function that creates value by stimulating, facilitating and fulfilling customer demand. It does this by building brands, nurturing innovation, developing relationships, creating good customer service and communicating benefits. By operating customer-centrically, marketing brings positive return on investment, satisfies shareholders and stake-holders from business and the community, and contributes to positive behavioural change and a sustainable business future.’
The proposed fresh wording was put together by the CIM’s research and information team with contributions from marketing luminaries. ‘We want the definition to reflect the reality of
marketing today,’ says David Thorp, the body’s director of research and information.
In support of the change, the CIM has put together ‘Tomorrow’s Word: Re-evaluating the Role of Marketing’, a 3000-word treatise outlining the problems of the current definition and solutions. The study involves some serious soul-searching; not only are the definitions examined, but the aim of the paper is to encourage debate into what the role of marketing should be and how it can move forward as a profession. It certainly pulls no punches; on the first page it claims that although marketing has become more sophisticated, ‘its status with the customer and the rest of the business has never been lower’.
The paper acknowledges that the world has changed significantly since the drafting of that single sentence back in the 70s. In the pre-internet, pre—globalisation age, marketing was much easier as there were fewer channels to market and less of a focus on relationships or service marketing.
There were also fewer professionals who saw themselves as marketers. According to the CIM, over the past 10 years, the marketing profession has grown by about 80% and there are now more than half a million Britons working within the broad function.
Disaffection with rampant commercialisation and capitalism is highlighted as a challenge, as consumers increasingly consider marketing as a pejorative term associated with the process of making people buy things that they neither need nor want. The present definition, with its mention of the word ‘profitably’, feeds into this belief, as does ‘management’, which alludes to a one-way process whereby a passive malleable consumer is manipulated by marketing e x e c u -
These aspects also sit uncomfortably with the growing band of so-called ‘social marketers’. A CIM survey of marketing practitioners revealed that while the majority of those polled felt the existing definition still covers the complexity of modern marketing, 37% felt it was insufficient when it came to the activities of the public sector and not-for-profit organisations. The new nod to sustainability confirms that being touchy-feely is the order of the day.
All these factors, argues the CIM, mean the current definition is an anachronism no longer ‘fit for purpose’. But the new wording has received a lukewarm response from marketing gurus. Its length has come in for particular criticism. Hugh Burkitt, chief executive of The Marketing Society, says: ‘The new definition is absurdly long and has clearly been written by a committee. A definition that long is unworkable.’
Although Mark Ritson, associate professor at Melbourne Business School, says the proposed wording is superior to the current version, he also wonders why the CIM did not err on the side of brevity. ‘In the age of clutter and demising attention spans it is questionable whether progress is really made by going from 12 words to 60
words,’ he says.
Commentators also question how the wording deals with marketing as both a function and a process. While Burkitt favours the current wording as he argues that it refers to the whole process, Emeritus professor of management and marketing Patrick Barwise criticises both versions for failing to make the distinction between marketing as a function and its role as the voice of the customer through the organisation. ‘I think they are about as good as each other,’ is his downbeat conclusion.
Burkett offers the Marketing Society’s definition, ‘The creation of customer demand, which is the only sustainable form of growth in business’, as an alternative, while Ritson calls for the CIM to draw inspiration from the US, reasoning that whether the British like it or not, the Americans invented marketing.
The definition from the American Marketing Association (AMA), the US equivalent to the CIM, reads: ‘Marketing is an organisational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organisation and its stakeholders.’ ‘The idea that the CIM can do a better job at defining the field of marketing is laughable,’ says Ritson.
The CIM now plans to tour the UK to canvass opinion on the proposed change among its membership before unveiling the final definition in a year’s time. If the initial reactions are anything to go by, the Institute will need to use all its marketing skills to win over its members.