20 mins

Why did marketing end up down the rabbit hole?

By Steve Cook


How to climb out of the hole and elevate marketing, your career & your organisation to new heights

Chapter One: Curiouser and curiouser!

A recent survey conducted for Cubo by The Centre for Brand Analysis made for some rather curious reading.

Out of 200 decision-makers across marketing and finance, only 3% strongly believe that marketing can protect their business from market changes and competitor innovations. Even more curiously, 46% don’t believe their own work has helped to protect their brand.

Whether or not you share these fears is almost irrelevant. The hard truth is that many of your colleagues in marketing and across organizations as a whole feel this way, and as a result marketing is further undervalued and underutilized.

And so, in order to further your cause…





The rabbit hole you go, investing huge amounts of time in:Creating a better marketing operation that can prove value and contribute more

  • Promoting the hell out of marketing to anyone that will listen
  • Learning about all the latest marketing trends and processes
  • Adopting and integrating the above to create a complex, responsive, efficient marketing department
  • Firefighting and reacting to business need
  • And falling into perhaps the biggest trap of all; diving deeper and deeper into the world of data, marketing automation, digital marketing and customer-centric programming. (There are now so many variations of marketing technologies 6,829 and counting, that it is almost impossible to fit them into a single graphic (no matter how gamely some designer has tried)

Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic April 2018

Despite all your hard work and best intentions, you realize that it just isn’t enough, surely there must be new and better ways?

Chapter Two: Welcome to the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

So now you work even harder to self-improve in order to become a great marketer who is valued, promoted and can contribute even more.

You immerse yourself in the latest and the greatest:

  • Investing time and money in an MBA. You pass
  • Listening to Professor Mark Ritson
  • Following Seth Godin and take his Alt. MBa
  • Absorbing ‘The Art of War’ (and yes, it is as relevant today as it’s always been)
  • Reading every book and article you can get your hands on

You learn loads of really excellent stuff, but you aren’t going to grow any bigger in your organization’s estimations – because it’s still only marketing.

The truth is that you have actually gone even further down the rabbit hole.

Chapter Three: When did it all go wrong?

The simple truth is that however great you become as a marketer, you will still be undervalued, underutilized, under-rewarded and barred from sitting at the top table.

Don’t take it personally. The real issue, the massive white rabbit in the room, is that you have ‘marketing’ in your job title and no matter how hard you try, you cannot change this.

These days, even the greatest marketers are just marketers.

And it’s getting worse, as some organizations further erode your remit and reach by creating pseudo-marketing roles such as Chief Customer Officer and Chief Experience Officer.

There is a growing misconception in organizations that because marketing has become so complex, so granular and so tactically multifaceted, leadership feels the need to create other roles to spread the burden and the responsibility.

As a result, marketing has slowly been marginalized and excluded from some of the most important and valuable areas of responsibility that it used to own.

No matter how great you are, no matter what you do – marketing by itself will never be viewed as the critical contributor to business and strategic growth that it should be.

Today, many marketers are recognizing these limitations and barriers as well.

The hard, painful truth is that marketing has been on a self-created slippery slope toward the edge for years, and more recently the slide has become unstoppable. Like being in quicksand, the more marketers have struggled, the more they’ve been dragged down.

The more you focus on tactical marketing and marketing communications, and become obsessed with marketing technology to prove your value, the further you move away from marketing’s real strengths, authority and influence.

So, how can you end this madness? How can you find your way out of the hole and up into the clear blue skies of strategic contribution, value, and real business influence?

Chapter Four: Wake up and smell the rabbit shit

It’s time to stop reaching for the latest Mad Hatter’s guide to marketing change, in the hope of finding new revelations, and take stock.

The issues that marketing, and business, are facing today have all been faced before – for as long as there have been businesses, customers, communities, culture, propositions, technological advances and the need for competitive advantage.

The only difference today is the sheer pace of change.

However, dealing with accelerated change and future organization-wide directions of travel are areas that you can and should influence in a broader business leadership role.

You can only achieve this with prudent, new-found strategic capability, visionary thinking, combined with well-constructed, cohesive and organization-wide implementation.

The way that you can contribute more fully to business leadership and progress, and move yourself beyond marketing and out of the hole, surprisingly already resides in marketing and, as a result, is already owned by you.

  • It has always been there even though it isn’t really a marketing tool, but has been increasingly marginalized, reduced, made tactical and become limited over time
  • Its importance has been diminished in the minds of many marketers and others in business and education
  • It has been subjected to a cycle of misunderstanding that has reduced what is probably the most important business strategic influencer to a bit-part player

Chapter Five: Brand Strategy – the driver for everything your organization is, does, and stands for.

Let’s talk about Brand Strategy.

  • Not branding as in the image, strapline, campaign theme or a subset of marketing communication
  • Not the customer experience or customer journey mapping or social media, let alone digital
  • Not even marketing strategy or collaborative working or integration or innovation

We are talking about true brand-led, all-encompassing business enablement and business strategy definition.

We are talking about Brand Strategy as the driver for absolutely everything your organisation is, does and stands for.

When engaged with in the right way, this fundamental business strategy can provide your organization, its leadership, and all its people with a vital understanding of every aspect of short, mid and long-term future direction, strategic planning and tactical implementation.

Brand Strategy can define and bring together, culture, conduct, operations and everything else within your organization – in the right way, in the right order and with the right shared understanding and development.

  • It’s a discipline that creates cohesion, motivation, strategic focus and tactical prudence
  • It’s always been a change agent, informer and catalyst and has always had an equal understanding of the requirements of people, both internally and externally
  • It’s the glue that binds organizations together, while creating the environment for continuous opportunities to evolve
  • It is the key informer for every function, strategically and tactically, throughout an organization

Every organization that develops and uses Brand Strategy the way that it should be used (and there aren’t many), is winning. They are better protected from threat, are more agile, unified collaborative and innovative – and more capable of evolving for the future, and more enterprisingly engaging with audiences.

There’s a reason for this – Brand Strategy works and adds value beyond almost every other business, strategic and marketing activity.

There are countless success stories (both old and new) that prove it is the number one driver for ongoing, long-term growth and reward.

It could be your success story too: The way you raise marketing out of the hole and up to a well understood, influential and highly valued business strategic fundamental.

Chapter Six: Brand Strategy is more important than ever before.

Pace of change and increasing competition are two of the major challenges that all organizations face. Yet arguably the biggest challenge of all, is winning over the hearts, minds, and advocacy of the people – regardless of whether they are a customer or not.

Because increasingly people are influenced not just by an organization’s brand communication, products or services, they are concerned with the way an organization conducts itself in totalitythe way it thinks, the way it goes about its business, the things it stands for, its moral compass, its policies, its decisions and choices.

These things and much more are an organization’s Brand Strategy – its entire way of being.

Ignore it at your peril, because the very real empowerment fuelled by social networks and digital devices, has given billions of people a voice – and they are making themselves heard loudly and clearly. As a result, every organization must rethink the way it engages with people, or sooner or later it will pay the price.

It all comes down to a question of trust.

It doesn’t matter whether they are customers, buyers, talent, investors, fans, voters, commentators, bloggers or simply concerned citizens.

Brand Strategy is the universally accepted number one influencer on everyone and anyone who interacts with your organization.

Brand Strategy can become an organization’s most powerful asset; helping it to unite disparate departments, navigate new and changing markets, and even weather the most turbulent and challenging of situations.

Chapter Seven: So why isn’t Brand Strategy the driving force behind every organization?

It’s a good question; and there isn’t really a simple answer.

Brand’s real, historic tragedy is that it has evolved from a fixed image origin – literally the branding or logo. It then developed as a marketing communications informer, so by the time its true capability was explored it was so buried in misunderstanding that it couldn’t rise up and out.

Too much art and not enough business science or strategy.

To add to its plight, there are several factors that have further diminished the role of Brand:

  • In many organizations Brand has been developed as a fixed and inflexible set of impositions that many can’t believe in and can’t see the value of
  • Many organizations have given Brand Development to external agencies (advertising, design, digital, brand consultancies etc. As a result, they have developed brand from an image and communications perspective to suit their own agendas and capabilities
  • Most organizations are compartmentalized, siloed and in some cases openly factional; preventing true strategic thinking as almost everyone is focussing on their own area
  • Finally, when considered in all these limiting ways, Brand is hard to quantify from a financial and value perspective making it difficult to justify or gain advocacy for from across an organization

“This is nothing new”, we hear you cry.

And you’re right, Brand Strategy is nothing new, as JWT’s long lost 1974 strategic planning bible testifies.

It’s just that over the years, Brand Strategy has been caught up in a perfect storm of neglect, misunderstanding, misuse, misrepresentation and missed opportunities.

Never has something so valuable and universal been so maltreated.

Chapter Eight: Out of the hole and up into the clear blue skies of strategic contribution and real business influence.

You are custodian of the most influential and all-encompassing gift that your business, its people, and your career possesses.

If you deploy its principles in the ways that strategic thinkers have developed Brand over the decades, Brand will be your most rewarding, progressive and valuable asset.

It will define structure, conduct, performance and proposition, and align these to deliver rich, sustained and sustainable competitive advantage.

But Brand’s strategic influence is cyclic and very much reliant on the whole organization. It therefore must engage with and influence, with equality, across the whole organization. To the point where Brand Strategy is recognized as the high watermark of visionary thinking and the catalyst for all strategic and tactical decision-making both today and for the future.

By understanding, championing and using Brand Strategy as it was always supposed to be used, you can start to make serious differences to everyone else.

You can now find your way out of the hole, into the light of visionary thinking and into the rarefied atmosphere of real, lasting business strategic direction.

It will also be the way that you and other marketing leaders begin to reestablish marketing as one of the most important operations in your organizations.

Chapter Nine: Next steps.

So do you want to be a marketer navigating your way through the warren of marketing technologies, data, processes, customer journey profiling maps, need to prove ROI etc.?

Or do you want to demonstrate marketing’s strategic value, while also growing your capabilities, stature and contribution to wider business decisions, strategy definition – and take your seat at the top table?

If it’s the latter and you want Brand Strategy to work it’s magic in your organization, then welcome to thediscipline that provides the answer to almost all questions currently being asked by concerned leaders, and for the foreseeable future.

But only when it is engaged with correctly.

You have to find ways to think about and engage with Brand Strategy from a truly business-wide, strategic perspective.

You have to avoid thinking about it from a purely marketing and customer perspective, otherwise you risk being seen as someone who is talking big, but is actually just trying to develop yet another new marketing tool.

Brand Strategy isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s for marketing leaders with the drive and desire to deliver positive and long-lasting progress across the entire organization.

It must be engaged with diligently, with energy and with a very clear understanding of its place, influence and reach.

But don’t worry, because there is a proven strategy for implementing Brand Strategy.

Chapter Ten: Enter V.

The founders of V have spent decades applying Brand Strategy directly within client organizations, and also by informing client stakeholders in leadership and marketing, so that they can deploy its principles for themselves.

Over this time, we have developed a methodology, a framework and a set of Brand Strategic principles to promote understanding, provide knowledge and create organization-wide, sustainable progress, benefit and advantage.

V call it Brand Conduct.

Brand Conduct’s driving principle is to ensure that from the outset Brand Strategy is considered, engaged with, and developed across every part of an organization.

It is innovative, intuitive, logical and collaborative.

Furthermore, it can be understood and deployed anywhere and easily adopted; as it delivers clear benefits, both within individual business units and across the whole organization.

From the very start, Brand Conduct demonstrates direct value to organization leadership and for leaders within each specific sphere of operation; thereby creating advocacy, motivation and momentum across all stakeholder groups.

Brand Conduct establishes and applies the strategic framework, defines the future direction, maps the interdependencies and creates the unified engagement necessary to the success of any business strategic endeavour.

  • It creates the rallying cry for the organization as a whole
  • It determines how each part of the whole can gain most from it and support each other effectively to achieve common and shared outcomes, now and for the future
  • It enables all key strategic decisions to be taken within a framework of understanding about the effect these decisions will have on every part of an organization – to ensure that there are no gaps, no fail points and no drops in forward motion
  • Because Brand Conduct is inclusive, all stakeholders are equally brought into all development activities and equally share in how the whole organization’s future conduct is shaped
  • Everyone can feel ownership of all forward motion and progress and everyone can deploy their own years of expertise, talent and experience within Brand Conduct’s framework

Ultimately, Brand Conduct is designed to ensure that a whole organization’s future conduct, strategically and tactically, internally and in market, operates as one, for mutual progress and benefit.

  • It looks at potential future strategic directions of travel and analyses the potential risks and rewards
  • It creates the business cases that prove the robustness of strategic direction, and as a result, creates the required advocacy and motivation necessary for success
  • It creates the mechanisms and operating processes necessary to meet future change, needs or threats, and responds seamlessly to these

Most importantly, Brand Conduct is completely non-partisan. It does not and cannot favour one or other operating function (i.e. marketing) because it knows that it must remain impartial and truly organization-wide in order to be effective.

Brand Conduct is both highly logical and unswervingly visionary in its methodology and strategic outcomes. This makes it easy to understand, rational in its development within organizations and capable of creatively (innovatively) answering some of the most serious issues affecting organizations today.

Brand Conduct is your gateway to Brand Strategic excellence and therefore your own strategy for wider business contribution and to achieve your ambitions for the future of your marketing operations.

Still in the dark? For the full picture call V on 07956 544943




+44 7956 544943   |   stephen.cook@vstrategy.co.uk

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