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Book Review: Marketing is in Trouble by Colin Gordon

Gary Brown takes a deep dive into Colin Gordon’s new book on the perilous state of marketing at the moment.

This is a fine piece of work. The author, whom I do not really know but know of, is a respected and battle- scarred marketer who in this opus clearly demonstrates a love and devotion to his discipline, art, profession or whatever it is this thing marketing is called.

Indeed, throughout this book he continuously wrestles with the dilemma of what marketing is and how it is perceived by others and herein lies one of the reasons why marketing is in trouble. What is marketing? Don’t worry, Gordon does a very fine job of answering that question in a very simple and stripped back way.

But as we all know making something simple to understand often requires huge effort and application and the author delivers on both. It is a very well-researched book and offers us a chronicled journey of how marketing began and where it is now. ( He has done his “ecker” well) It is probably the best book on marketing I have read in the last ten years and the fact that it is written by an Irish marketing expert, one of our own, made this experience even more satisfying. I would go as far as saying that all of our Irish marketing groups or those charged with promoting and teaching marketing in Ireland should put this book on their reading lists and get the author to speak and lecture on its content. IAPI, the Marketing Institute et al please take note.

Throughout this book Gordon poses many questions and the book is littered with interesting and compelling quotations as well as short excerpts of others work and thoughts. This is primarily a marketing book, written by a marketer for other marketers. It doesn’t really matter at what level or stage your marketing career is at right now, this book has something for us all.

Book Author: Colin Gordon

I found myself as I went through this book being reminded of other books I had read and forgotten about and also nodding my head in silent agreement with its content. What is very obvious in this book is that the author is a slight romantic in how he would like his chosen subject and career to be portrayed and this makes it even more alluring, well for me anyway.

Yes marketing is a hard nosed business based on results and measurement matrics (well at least it should be anyway), but Gordon continually asks us questions like “ Marketing, art or science?” and quoting lines like “imagination is more important than knowledge”. He also likens some real marketing people to magicians and courts the concept of alchemy akin to Rory Sutherland. This is because, in my view, the most successful people  in marketing I have ever met have always really understood the business they were in and everything about it, but they always had a fascination and appreciation of the creative and mystical side of people and how they were attracted and seduced into buying products. This is the magic dust of our business.

In this book Gordon sets out his stall early by declaring “marketing is about linking transactions.” He also lays a lot of the blame on marketing’s decline on short termism and this is borne out by the fact that the average tenure of a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) is just 43 months.  This is also compounded by the constant pursuit of winning marketing awards (a separate industry now in itself) for short term objectives.

Indeed, even on the creative side of marketing, some 80 per cent of Cannes Lions (the so-called Oscars of global advertising) are awarded to one off activations. So, it seems that in a marketing career long term views are not conducive to career development. I myself remember a conversation I once had with a very senior marketing supremo  in Diageo who said “You know the problem is our consumers are so  promiscuous, they are constantly changing brands” to which  I replied “ Not as promiscuous as your brand managers”, (eh I didn’t get that gig) Winning is, after all, a long term affair.

Gordon doesn’t present us with a magic bullet to save marketing as he knows  it’s not a binary solution that’s required, so he presents us near the end of the book with 10 steps to get us out of where we are.

On reflection though, I believe I got the answers to this problem earlier on in the book when he tells us to get back to basics. He tells us that “marketing is about making selling easier”, and it is. He believes- and I agree- that marketing needs to permeate all aspects and touchpoints of a business, from board level down. ”To be able to fully develop marketing in your organisation, it’s important-vital, more like it-to integrate the magicians in other functions, to help everyone in the organisation focus on the sales results, to identify and service the customer over the long term, to help make everyone alchemists, to ensure everyone is working to make selling easier. After all “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

[Marketing is in Trouble is published by Orpen Press and costs €20. To purchase a copy visit www.orpenpress.com]

Gary Brown is former Chairman and Founder of Target McConnells, now Folk Wunderman Thompson. He is also a successful playwright and director. He is a former League of Ireland footballer and part owner of Pipers Corner traditional Irish music pub in Dublin.


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