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S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing Philip Kotler (right) with World Business Forum attendee Bruce Bachmann of the Polk Bros. Foundations.

Marketing industry barking up wrong tree, Kotler tells World Business Forum audience

By Deborah Leigh Wood

11/1/2004 - Marketing as we know it appears to be going to the dogs, international marketing expert Philip Kotler told a large audience assembled at the World Business Forum at McCormick Place on Nov. 18.

So far, “dogvertising”—dogs who wear signs to advertise a product or service—has grabbed hold only in Germany, but it may be coming to a sidewalk near you. If not dogvertising—which he considers a rather unlikely prospect--then some other way of marketing products is needed to put the teeth back into an industry desperate to reach people in the wake of TiVo, said Kotler, the Kellogg School’s S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing.

Pure and simple, marketing is in crisis and suffering from a mixture of maladies. “Markets have changed, so marketing must change. There are too many companies saddled with ‘old’ marketing,” Kotler said. “The industry needs to go undergo a revolution because it’s embarrassing the way it is.”

When his book Marketing Management came out in 1967, “there was no Internet, no positioning, no brand management, no Wal-Mart,” Kotler said. Today, with his book in its 11th edition, marketing isn’t hitting its target much of the time, he believes. He said marketers spend too much time competing for budgets with those in sales. The two need to put animosity aside, he said, and become “seamlessly linked” to get beyond the crisis. It wouldn’t just be a nice gesture on the part of marketing, Kotler said. It’s more a matter of do it or drown because “the power is shifting to sales.”

Kotler said it would be nice if finance signed on, but “no one gets along with finance,” he said, eliciting laughs. Customers, however, are another matter. “New marketing” knows that customers should be partners for profit. To that end these markets are getting to know their customers through integrated marketing communications, service and experiential marketing, profitability analysis and company contact centers that gather information about their clientele.

Kotler said a good example of the customer as partner exists at Tesco, the No. 2 food-grocery business in the United Kingdom. The discount chain issues a club card to its customers that records what they’ve purchased. The data is then categorized into 5,000 segments so Tesco can zero in on customer preferences. Those who buy wine, for instance, are courted by way of a Tesco wine club, wine tastings and special wine sales.

Shifting the focus from product to outcome could save the day for marketing, Kotler concluded. What that means is that we could see celebrity endorsements on talk shows, more product placement in movies, street-level promotion (also called guerilla marketing) and mobile billboards. Hopefully, said Kotler, we can call off the dogs.