Tis the season for resolutions. As you consider your plans for 2021, I would encourage you to rethink the role of marketing in your organization.
Since the 1950s and the popularization of the Fordist model of production, capitalist business enterprise has regarded marketing as a functional area. That is, like accounting or finance, it filled a certain role in the firm’s system of production. Marketing departments in this sense could be as small as a set of duties or as large as a division of full time laborers. Over time, this system has become institutionalized, in a sense naturalized, to such an extent that nonprofit, government and even religious entities reflect this logic, possessing some measure of marketing departments. Regardless of your work background, your fluency in our society allows you to likely imagine an organizational chart that includes marketing as a unit.
But we should not mistake the proliferation of the Fordist model as the end of history. Francis Fukuyama himself has since walked that notion back. Nor indeed should we fail to see the naturalization of marketing as a functional area as something other than an error of reification.
Consider this: We are in the midst of a movement toward the complete digitalization of our everyday lives. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated this, but the trends were well in place beforehand: remote work; online shopping; digitally enabled (and often app-based) services; and the flattening of a myriad of life experiences (photos, music, dating, directions, tickets) into our new societal data terminal: the smartphone. Businesses, far from being exempt from such forces, are at the nexus of them. The digital age is reconfiguring the relations of production and consumption.
Digitalization has brought about capabilities and with them expectations. Consumers increasingly expect customization. The ads they see, when they see them, the communications they receive, the way those communications are phrased, whether a given piece of copy finds them on their laptop in an engine search, or on a smartphone in a social media feed — all of these things can, and increasingly are expected to, be accounted for and personalized. This saves the firm money as only leads see marketing communications and therefore only good spots are purchased, and it provides the consumer with a truly endless suite of enticing options. The term for this in marketing theory is customer experience design, or CXD.
CXD is the strategic orientation of all marketing channels toward a coherent and unifying narrative, a story — a brand — in order to reduce attrition in every phase of the purchase funnel. That is, perfectly executed customer experience design means that every potential customer who encounters the firm not only pursues purchases but converts them and agrees to maintain a relationship with the firm going forward through a newsletter, mailing list or other opt-in marketing communications system. I suspect you can imagine this from your own experience. Perhaps you saw an ad on a social media feed and it seemed to be the perfect product for you. Perhaps you clicked on it and perused the website, only to be turned off by something. What was the snag? Why did you not complete the purchase? There was a flaw in the design of your experience. Was it that you were not buying at the time? Was it that you expected a level of service that was not provided?
CXD represents a totalizing system of value creation from the firm’s perspective, and it is for this reason that I would encourage you to reconsider the role of marketing in your organization.
Specifically, it is time to move marketing from a functional area — a particular but essentially siloed concern of the firm — to the center of your business strategy. CXD is only effective when it is linked back to developed value capabilities in the firm. A brilliant social media campaign cannot overcome a bad website. An exceptional website cannot protect you from the fallout of a poor product. An excellent product cannot be justified by an unreasonable price. In other words, the entire positioning of the company must reflect an eye toward CXD.
Remember, the Fordist model reflected a system of production predicated on what can be made. We have left that firmly in the dustbin of history. Instead, the raison d’être of firms today is to deliver what is wanted, not what they can provide. It is customer facing, a matter of demand rather than supply. In other words, the customer experience is the goal.
A digital marketing student leaving Idaho State University now can develop and execute CXD plans. They are trained to identify and develop a brand narrative with thoughtful consideration of available channels, including their strengths and weaknesses, through the use of a content program. They are sensitized to continuity, risk and reward, and timing. ISU students are leaving with a firm grasp on trends in the digital and traditional spaces and experience working through problems like data leaks, inappropriate content posting and irate customers.
But marketers cannot accomplish this siloed. They cannot do it divorced from strategy and planning. And they have to be compensated for the level of their contribution.
It is time to reimagine the role of marketing.
Dr. Alexander S. Rose is an assistant professor of marketing at the Idaho State University College of Business. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas, and his research interests revolve around social forces in the marketplace, with an emphasis on market structure, automation and market evolution, and the dark side of consumption.