The decline of the influence of marketing in the Boardroom: The problems and the cure

by Professor Malcolm McDonald

Two of the main contributors to the somewhat confused state in which the marketing  profession finds itself are:

1. The widely-held belief that marketing is mainly a communications function

2. The phenomenally -rapid acceleration of digital technology.


There has been a marked shift in the perceived role of marketing during the past thirty years as a result of the research of the Nordic School . Their work led to a shift from the economics-based “ product-dominant logic “ to the relationship-centred “ service dominant logic “. This led to the widely-held view that as most customer-facing personnel do not belong to the marketing department, marketing is everyone’s responsibility. As a consequence marketing moved away from the board and came to be perceived as mainly a promotional function.

I personally was extremely alarmed when the new CEO of CIM some six years ago advertised to recruit a “ Strategy Director “ and separately, a “ Marketing Director “, thus signalling to the world that our professional body believes that marketing has little to do with strategy. Neither has Marketing's self-destructive focus on the measurement of tactical promotional expenditure in an attempt to prove that they are not wasteful, self-indulgent and innumerate helped our cause.

The advent of digital exacerbated this perception.


A few months ago, I heard from one of our leading marketing academics (whose confidence I must respect ), who said that from recent interviews with senior directors across a range of businesses ( funded as part of an ESRC Digital Social Research grant ), marketing is becoming increasingly seen as purely digital in many businesses, with the consequence that marketers are less involved in strategic decisions. The evidence was suggesting that “ marketers  are being booted out of the boardroom and becoming merely a service function “

Yet, as Nicola Kemp said in November 2013; " For many companies, the greatest threat is not being out of touch with digital developments, but losing sight of the fundamental needs of consumers and the underlying long-term drivers of their business ".

Readers will have all encountered cartoons showing a frustrated board of directors listening to a CMO saying something along the following lines:  “Although our earnings dropped by 25%, I feel compelled to point out that our Facebook likes have doubled!”. Directors really don’t care. They might be interested if the CMO could translate “ likes “ into quantified leads for the sales force, leading to an enhanced pipeline and increased sales and profits.

Of course digital is important, representing as it does a valuable addition to an already-impressive list of two-way communication channels, but it is not marketing. It should be obvious to anyone that without a robust strategy for what is sold and to whom, developing a digital strategy is impossible.


 Given the maturity of most markets, the failure of hundreds of fads such as Marketing Excellence ( Pascale R , 1990 )  and of finance, with their ridiculous focus on short term rounds of exotic debt instruments, excessive leverage, cost cutting and focus on cash, it is fair to conclude that future success will very much depend on a focus on markets and customers.  How many pence are there in a pound and how many of these can be cut ? Cost cutting is finite, whereas creating value for customers is infinite and is limited only by our creativity and imagination—surely the role of marketing.

It is also worth noting that the UK has twelve times more accountants per capita than Germany ( Pearson 2013 ). Which country, I ask, has been more successful  over the past sixty years?

This represents a massive opportunity for the marketing and sales community.

A recent article on the future of marketing in HBR re-emphasised the need for marketers with traditional marketing expertise and claimed that these basic capabilities are missing from our community. Another, in Management Today in October explained why product excellence is no longer enough. There are no bad products today. The consequence is that product excellence has to be augmented by differentiation in the market place.

In spite of my criticism of the state of marketing today, our research at Cranfield shows that successful marketers make a major contribution to corporate wealth by understanding markets, doing proper needs-based segmentation, developing quantified value propositions, competitive analysis, portfolio analysis and managing market place risk.

So, the time has come to tell the world about the real contribution that world class marketers make to the creation of shareholder value. This will not come from econometric models--- although these are important--- nor from simple measures of marketing effectiveness. Top executives still don't know how to convert, for example, brand equity to " real " equity, whilst single numbers such as the net promoter score just do not convince anyone. Hence the "show-us-the-money" school at the top of most companies.

The most common objective of modern commercial organisations is the sustainable creation of shareholder value. This can be achieved only by providing shareholders with a total return from capital growth and dividend yield that exceeds their risk-adjusted required rate of return for this particular investment. In today's highly competitive environment, the major sources of shareholder value creation are the intangible marketing assets of the business, such as brands, customer relationships and channels of distribution, the 80 per cent of the company's value that does not appear on the traditional balance sheet. Consequently, the critical future marketing strategies of a company, which indicate how these assets are to be developed, maintained and exploited, are the role of properly-trained marketing specialists, not some geek playing around with technology.

So a changed approach is necessary, which entails getting back to basics and this represents a major opportunity for our community.

The forecasts are that marketing is morphing into a technology-based discipline to cope with the new age of technology. Whilst this is almost certainly true, we must not forget to focus on the fundamentals of marketing and we must learn how to embrace technological developments as essential tools to help us in our quest to build real value for our target markets. Only this way will we let boards of directors see the major contribution we make to corporate strategy.

The Knowledge Development Committee of the Worshipful Company of Marketors  is focussing on helping the marketing community to embrace the plethora of new technology innovations and tie them in to what really matters in the boardroom.

From this and other seminal papers on the state of marketing, it is difficult not to conclude that the discipline of marketing is destined to become increasingly less influential in the board room unless there is some kind of revolution

The future can be bright for us all, but not without a fundamental paradigm shift.


Pascale R ( 1990 ) Managing on the Edge. London. Viking

Pearson D  ( 2013 )The 20 Ps of Marketing.  Kogan Page. London

Kemp N (2013) Forward 50 Marketing November

Edwards H (2014 ) Comment. Marketing November

Christensen C et al (2005 ) Marketing Malpractice. The cause and the cure HBR December pp 74-83


About the Author

Emeritus Professor Malcolm H.B. McDonald MA(Oxon) MSc PhD DLitt DSc

Until 2003, Malcolm was Professor of Marketing and Deputy Director of Cranfield University School of Management, with special responsibility for E-Business. He is a graduate in English Language and Literature from Oxford University, in Business Studies from Bradford University Management Centre, and has a PhD from Cranfield University. He also has a Doctorate from Bradford University and from the Plekhanov University of Economics in Moscow. He has extensive industrial experience, including a number of years as Marketing and Sales Director of Canada Dry. Until the end of 2012, he spent seven years as Chairman of Brand Finance plc.

He spends much of his time working with the operating boards of the world’s biggest multinational companies, such as IBM, Xerox, BP and the like, in most countries in the world, including Japan, USA, Europe, South America, ASEAN and Australasia.

He has written forty six books, including the best seller "Marketing Plans; how to prepare them; how to use them", which has sold over half a million copies worldwide. Hundreds of his papers have been published.

Apart from market segmentation, his current interests centre around the measurement of the financial impact of marketing expenditure and global best practice key account management. He is an Emeritus Professor at Cranfield and a Visiting Professor at Henley, Warwick, Aston and Bradford Business Schools.