The new focus of the Marketing competence

by Ivar Slavenburg

In my article “The fading relevance of the marketing competence” I wrote about the decreasing role the marketing competence is starting to play in developing future products and services for customers. One of the critical issues is the lack of proper understanding of future customer needs, as the traditional market research lacks the methods of determining them properly.

Additionally, it almost seems like leading marketeers are unwilling to adapt to changes in the complex systems they operate in. The question is whether this will lead to the marketing competence becoming obsolete as a new competence is available to take over major parts of it. That competence being Design.

Marketing has to bridge the gap with the rest of the organization

Parts of the issues mentioned are of an operational nature. In his article "Marketing and IT, in the name of CX, why can't you just get along?" (Bob Thompson, 2013), author Bob Thompson argues that CMO’s and CIO’s should discuss how they can better operate together. Though it might be so that CMO’s want to run their own systems, they should consider the fact that real power is derived when they integrate properly with systems of other departments. That integration is one of the key competences of the CIO, not to mention the competence to manage them properly.

On the other hand, CIO’s need to understand that Marketing (or any other competence, I think) can’t wait forever on the ultimate, next big thing, solution. Temporary solutions are needed, even if that means more work later on. Together with the other members of the management team it should be possible to resolve the lack of cooperation. If not, the CEO has to step in! This should be the easy part, as it is doesn’t require anything else than managing an organization properly, right?

Information for sustainable innovation

In an other article I wrote about the different categories of innovation, as described by Greg Satell in his article "4 Types of Innovation (and how to approach them)" (Greg Satell, 2012). He divides innovation into basic research, sustaining innovation, disruptive innovation and breakthrough innovation. The division is based on whether the problem and the domain is either not well defined or well defined. When both are well defined Satell speaks of sustaining innovation, which he describes as a type of innovation „where there is a clearly defined problem and a reasonably good understanding of how to solve it”. Typically, it involves improving on an existing product or service.

Marketing can be defined as „the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling the product or service. It is a critical business function for attracting customers”. It isn’t specifically about innovation, but about communication with customers. Still, when you talk with customers and listen carefully to their feedback, a lot of knowledge can be gathered about the perceived quality of a product or service. Some customers are more than capable (and willing) to make suggestions about possible improvements. This information can be a solid foundation for sustaining innovation.

The Consumer’s Decision Journey

In his article "Marketing’s New Key Competence: Driving the Consumer’s Decision Journey…" (Wim Rampen, 2013), Wim Rampen argues that a key competence of any company should be to drive the consumer’s decision journey, or in other words, helping them understand what they need, help them find the right options and buy. To do that he defines 5 key marketing competences:

  1. Mapping the consumer (and customer) jobs and outcome, being all the resources a consumer or customer uses to inform himself, including all touch-points
  2. Identify key partners from the Customer’s point of view and their contribution to the Customer’s process, as they are their key partners
  3. Quantify and validate the decision journey and the contribution of each touch-point (including those of partners and outsiders) to Customer acquisition, lifetime development & satisfaction with the process. Though difficult to reveal, it is important to understand which journeys are really important and which are less so
  4. Select and manage key partners: based on 1 to 3 it can be decided to invest in the relationship with the customer’s key partners
  5. Design & provide company (branded) touch-points that enable Customers to perform key-jobs and achieve key-outcomes in each phase of the Customers path to purchase. Ultimately, you want consumers and customers to identify you as a key partner as well. Based on the other competences it can be determined which touch points should be identified by the consumer and customer with your brand.

It should be noted that these marketing competences are not one offs, but constantly need to be upgraded as consumers and customers are always changing their ways.

The future of marketing as described by Rampen isn’t new, it has been proposed by more authors. However the research of Forrester as described by Brenner makes you wonder whether the average CMO has listened, so it’s likely a good thing to repeat it again and again. Or even better, start doing it with success, as nothing gets copied so much (though unfortunately often so poorly) as success.

Stop reverse engineering benefits

In the spirit of repeating a message until it sticks David Meerman Scott describes in his article "Making stuff up" (David Meerman Scott, 2013) marketing’s biggest problem: marketers are just making stuff up.

Marketers are just making stuff up

– David Meerman Scott

I think any marketer, if honest, can relate to his example: „sitting around a conference room with your colleagues and agency staffers results in groupthink that’s not tied to the realities of the marketplace. This behavior means you start by talking about product features, then reverse engineer benefits that you think you provide, which results in “marketing” around the made up benefits.”

Although it will be tough to swallow, the marketing competence is not as powerful anymore as it was in the past. Currently, it is faced with numerous problems as it is based on market research that lacks the methods to understand what is really going on in complex systems and run by CMO’s that are not investing in new ways of communicating with their markets nor invest in talent development.

However, if marketers are willing, their competences have still a significant role to play in sustaining innovation. The operational problems can be fixed.

Further Reading

  1. Bob Thompson (2013), Marketing and IT, in the name of CX, why can't you just get along?. Retrieved from
  2. Greg Satell (2012), 4 Types of Innovation (and how to approach them). Retrieved from
  3. Wim Rampen (2013), Marketing’s New Key Competence: Driving the Consumer’s Decision Journey…. Retrieved from
  4. David Meerman Scott (2013), Making stuff up. Retrieved from