The unhealthy decline of SA marketing

Marketing is integral to enticing retailers and consumers to foodbev products. Here are some pertinent insights into the state of marketing in South Africa, penned by futurist/trends guru, Jonathan Cherry. ‘The business of business is marketing” goes the old adage, but it seems to be something on the wane, as Cherry laments.

In 2017, Charles Duhigg writing for The New York Times described good marketing  as “the art of telling stories so enthralling that people lose track of their wallets.”

Companies that have mastered ‘the art of good marketing’ are able to have that affect on our lives these days; Netflix, Apple, Aviation Gin, Monocle Magazine – these are all great examples of this magical phenomenon.

Peter Drucker, the famed management guru, once stated:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Sadly, indications are that the management of many of South Africa’s biggest companies are not a fans of Peter Drucker – or believe in the power of fantastic storytelling to capture people’s wallets and money.

Increasingly, in a wide variety of industries in South Africa – the function of marketing is not valued at all. In fact, in many cases, marketing is regarded with open disdain; its seen as a grudge expense with no real value and an impact which is difficult to quantify.

The people who are appointed to perform the role of marketing in general are woefully incapable of doing the job – they lack the training, skill and passion for the profession. Individuals are assigned to the marketing function who are unable to create a functional strategy, they lack the ability to inspire the best out of appointed service providers and don’t have the professional confidence to take on the creative risks needed to progress a brand into its best future.

As a result – the overall quality of the South African marketing profession’s output is poor…and getting worse. Much of the established marketing talent in the industry have left their positions because of the eroding influence of the function.

The management focus these days is far more on finance, operations, logistics, IT and production than on the ‘soft, creative, unmeasurable, airy-fairy’ side of the business.

Not just in South Africa, but globally, the CMO position is disappearing.

Many leading brands around the world, including Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Lyft, Beam Suntory, Taco Bell, Hyatt Hotels, Mars Wrigley, Kimberly-Clark and McDonald’s, have eliminated their CMO positions.

What is often the case though is that the old CMO position has now been merged with sales and business development into a new C-Suite position known as the Chief Growth Officer.

This move runs the risk of diluting the role that less measurable and riskier aspects of the growth function play – practically ensuring that brands grow through measurable analytical approaches rather than anything that might be classified as ‘art’.

The result is blandness and a form of marketing sterility that helps to produce brands that nobody actually gives a damn about and are easily replaced in the hearts and minds of consumers.

The task of leading a business in “the art of telling stories so enthralling that people lose track of their wallets” has been handed to individuals who are not able to do that and / or the need for such ‘witchcraft’ has been dropped from the organisational strategy entirely.

If the primary mission of any company is ‘to attract and retain a customer’ – by ‘creating an experience so amazing that they just wouldn’t dream of doing business anywhere else’ – then I can’t think of too many South African brands (other than Capitec and Nando’s) that are delivering on that mission.


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