What is the purpose of marketing in the 21st century?

By Sarah Ashdown

3 mins

What is the purpose of marketing in the 21st century?

By Sarah Ashdown

3 mins

Early in my own career, I never stopped to think about the purpose of marketing because let’s face it, as a Marketing Assistant you’re far too busy thinking about a hundred other things, such as “How does this work, and how am I going to get everything into the market before Friday?”


However, when you are no longer held to account for just driving campaign performance, but for your impact on wider enterprise growth, I’ve come to appreciate not only the opportunities but the immense challenges facing today’s marketing functions.


Where are we? How did we get here?


As marketers, we know that advances in technology provide more tools than ever, to both communicate with our audiences and to gather ever more data. To point out that “the world has changed” since the arrival of the Web is to profoundly understate the issue. The environment marketers operate in today is more one of ‘chronic turbulence’: disruption can emerge any time, for any reason, and from any number of directions.



What does this mean for marketing leaders?


At its most fundamental, as Michael Bayler has articulated in his recent work, marketing has traditionally contributed to the overall enterprise by balancing three distinct types of value: Brand, Customer and Enterprise.


customer value marketing


When we’re successful, this virtuous growth process repeats cyclically:


  • Valued brands grow a satisfied and loyal customer base


  • These customers grow their spend on the firm’s products and services;


  • The enterprise sees a consistent and sustainable growth in revenues, and is incentivised to grow it’s marketing investment


While innovative business models will ebb and flow across the marketplace, revenue growth for the enterprise remains relatively straightforward to understand and measure.  However brand and customer value both continue to go through profound and unpredictable shifts. These are the two areas which require a radical review.


How to reframe brand value within marketing 


There’s been an underlying presumption that marketing functions are there above all to deliver advertising, and that ‘better’ advertising builds better brands. This argument is becoming increasingly hard to defend, not least in a very sceptical C-Suite.  The building blocks of brand value are today far more diverse and elusive, with creative and messaging becoming recognised as secondary levers.




Marketing functions need to shift their priority from ‘messaging about value’ to actively creating and delivering value for customers.


How to grow customer value with marketing 


Due again to technical innovation, huge volumes of data, and floods of new entrants into the market, customers’ perceptions of value are continually evolving.


In many key sectors, service value is rapidly superseding product value; in others, new business models are shifting value from ‘bought and owned’ to ‘streamed, leased or rented’.


So to capture and deliver new value – and therefore growth to the enterprise – our attention must move to what’s happening outside our organisations. Obsessing about ‘’why marketing has become so complex’’ and ‘’what we should do with all of the data we’ve gathered’’ are dangerous distractions to getting to grips with the external marketplace complexity which underpins this increasing disruption.


Forward-thinking marketing organisations


An immensely important learning for me in this context has been the ‘Paradox of Delivery’: the more we try to own, the less successful we will be. Marketing is becoming an enterprise sport, and the organisations recognising these shifts and embracing them across all divisions within the business are best equipped to deliver meaningful and sustainable growth.




To discover more, download the full report ‘Reframing Marketing For Growth’.

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