Corporate statements and the need to balance traditional marketing thinking

The need to balance company mission/vision statements with stakeholder interests remains a challenge for too many.

In order to be a professional and strategic marketer one of the things you need to constantly assess is the world around you; you have to remain relevant to your target audience, re-adjusting and blending what you know to be true with the latest pieces of information that you choose to believe; you also need to have the conviction of your thoughts and be prepared to act upon them for the benefit of the company. Doing so demonstrates to the organisations that pay your fees, not only your commitment to your beliefs but also that you can remain ‘progressive’ and relevant.

 There are several marketers I enjoy hearing the opinions of: Professors Malcolm McDonald and Jonathan Deacon are two, Thomas Barta another and I particularly enjoy hearing the views from award-winning columnist Mark Ritson. Mark is a highly accredited consultant and professor of marketing who writes regularly for Marketing Week. I’ve enjoyed many of his articles including the one I’m going to reference today, but having read it, I wondered how this would be perceived within the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a professional body that I’ve been a member of for the past 13 years.

In Mark’s latest piece within MW, he writes, “Time and again companies have proved unwilling to stick to their lofty purpose statements when it costs them money. For purpose to have any meaning, corporations need to put it before profit” citing, Starbucks mission, ‘to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time’ and it’s contradicting inability to align its tax responsibilities.

The companies who promote weak or genuine mission statements without any level of sincerity, have of course failed themselves, their staff, shareholders, customers and society as a whole because they place their profits first and their true beliefs second.

But is it possible to cast to one side profits when prosperity at best or basic survival at worst are essential if any firm is ever likely to impact society with positivity, whether that’s supporting their workforce with employment opportunities or having the scope for long-term growth? I ask this because the CIM has laboured the mantra (at least throughout my time as a member) that the definition of marketing is, “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” Notice that last word, profitably? Surely, there can be no contradiction here, can there? We can operate or work for the most ethical of firms, but isn’t striking a healthy balance between fiscal prudence and ethics absolutely necessary? Don’t we all demand that our companies stay around long enough to survive AND pay their taxes AND deliver a return to investors?

If you or I had invested as shareholders in a start-up company who’d identified the potential for great financial returns whilst meeting their deeply entrenched ethical views across the executive board, we’d probably be quite pleased to be associated with such a company and be happy to provide some of our personal wealth.  But if we learnt that any returns might be decades away, we would surely feel different? Should we simply give our support and say let’s plough on regardless because that’s their belief, and then expect us as shareholders to keeping pumping investment in, against a longer-term view, or would we persuade them to just ditch that sector or the entire business model and try something new? We all want to applaud them for their single-mindedness, but if we were shareholders, we’d expect a return, right? Isn’t that the very essence of capitalism?  We can’t just conveniently say, “What a brand says is less important than what it actually does”, if we don’t ourselves believe there should be balance, but it should be that, BALANCE. Perhaps we need to rethink the CIM’s outdated definition to something more relevant of the day and is in keeping with Mark’s excellent article, perhaps “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating, communicating and satisfying stakeholder requirements profitably”.

What do you think?

If you would like to speak to me about any of the issues raised in this post or read Mark’s article please click here http://bit.ly/RitsonVsTradThinkingor, email me to discuss this further Nigel Davis.

Nigel Davis was voted ‘One of Britain’s Top 50 Small Business Consultants’ and is an MCIM Chartered Marketer.

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