Harvard Business Online

Putting Marketing on "Roids"


Posted on Harvard Business Review: March 1, 2010 2:56 PM

As soon as the St. Louis Cardinals' new batting coach Mark McGwire told reporters at spring training that he had used steroids only to stay healthy, not to improve his performance, the statisticians pounced. Analyzing his power numbers, they demonstrated what we all already knew: performance enhancers work. With economic recovery and renewed competition around the corner, marketing executives need some powerful performance enhancers of their own—of the non-pharmaceutical kind.

In conversation after conversation, CEOs, presidents, and CMOs tell me that their companies are looking to marketing to lead the business into the customer-centric future. And in a future that looks vastly different from the past, natural talent no longer suffices. Looking ahead, they say they want to supplement the indispensable four P's of the traditional marketing mix (product, price, placement and promotion) with some powerful new elements. They describe this potent brew in various ways, but I think its essential ingredients can be summed up in the easily remembered acronym: ROIDs.

• Responsibility marketing, including social responsibility, green marketing, and sustainability
• Organizational leadership, requiring marketing to touch as much of the value chain as possible
• Insights about customers, based on new analytic techniques that replace yesterday's market research
• Digital marketing, requiring companies to master an amorphous bundle of fast-changing media

Two of the elements—responsibility marketing and digital marketing—are being driven by consumers. Consumers increasingly insist that companies behave responsibly in all areas of operation, and it's going to be up to marketers to get the word out about their company's performance. Consumers are also far more likely to be found these days in a bewildering variety of digital media than they are in more traditional venues, and where customers go marketers must follow.

The other two elements—organizational leadership and insights about consumers—are operating principles. Just as responsible corporate behavior will apply to all areas of operation, the customer perspective must be a guiding principle of the entire organization. That means marketing executives must work along all points of the value chain throughout the product or service lifecycle and anywhere the consumer comes in contact with the brand. To gather customer insights they will need to institutionalize analytical skills that go far deeper than traditional market research and get far closer to individual customers than data mining.

All four elements mean bulking up on knowledge, not simply improving marketing technique. In responsibility marketing alone, the required knowledge could range from understanding carbon footprint and endocrine disruptors to microloans and foreign labor practices. Organizational leadership requires knowing how each step in the value chain can add value for customers. Customer insights rely on exacting new disciplines like Web analytics. Digital marketing obviously means understanding an array of digital media, but with social networking it means knowledge of social dynamics, not merely customer behavior.

In subsequent posts I'll be treating each of these elements in more detail. Next up, I'll turn to what Tiger Woods, another fallen idol of the sports world, can tell us about the 'R' in ROIDS: responsibility marketing.


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