Should Marketing Do Good?

by | Feb 16, 2016 | 0 comments

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There’s a really interesting post on Linkedin from Sherilyn Shackell, founder of the Marketing Academy, asking whether the current definitions of marketing are still relevant, and what this might mean for the role of leadership within marketing.

She quotes the Chartered Institute of Marketing, who define marketing as:

“the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”

She then characterises leadership as activity that inspires people to learn more, do more and become more. So, if marketing is a profession that has the power to do these things, she asks whether marketing should be about influencing and inspiring people to make choices and decisions that enhance their lives in a positive way.

Now this is fascinating, as it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently too in the context of agile. Marketing has long been a process heavy, linear and waterfall type industry, with big up front planning used to launch campaigns in a single big bang. The complexity, fast-pace and uncertainty created by the Internet and digital clearly show this approach to be outdated in many instances, and I believe agile provides the alternative marketers now need to be adopting.

Agile is more than a process though, it is a mindset and way of seeing the world, that can have quite far reaching consequences. One of the consequences that people seem to have overlooked so far is around the nature of what people are marketing, and the impacts they expect their marketing to have.

Funnily enough my thinking around this came from the field of leadership too. Agile needs a form of leadership called servant leadership, where leaders don’t direct, instruct, command or control those that work for them, but instead help, support and serve them so they can achieve their own goals. Servant leadership goes beyond the professional relationship at work, and says servant leaders must be concerned with supporting the personal growth and happiness of those they serve. It even goes beyond the workplace all together, and looks at how servant leaders should aim to benefit society. One of the fathers of servant leadership, Robert Greenleaf suggested this test for whether servant leadership is taking place:

“Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served,become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will he benefit, or, at least, will he not be further deprived?” (Greenleaf, 1970, p. 7)

Larry Spears adds to this by saying:

“Servant leadership is a long-term, transformational approach to life and work – in essence, a way of being – that has the potential for creating positive change throughout our society”

So servant leadership is about benefitting society as well as about benefitting those you work with. If agile requires servant leadership, then by extension, an agile approach should have within it the need for the agile organisation to benefit society too.

So if we apply this back to marketing, if marketers need to adopt agile to cope with the complexity, fast-pace and uncertainty of the Internet and digital, then adopting this agile approach may also mean that marketers need to start considering how their work benefits society too. So Sherilyn and I find ourselves at exactly the same place, only from slightly different starting points.

Interestingly, Sherilyn sees this change in marketing as coming not from process, but from leaders hiring the right people who embody values such as passion, curiosity, courage and authenticity. How those people are then developed is left unsaid, but I’d suggest that servant leadership is a fantastic means of doing this, and bringing a moral and ethical dimension into the field of marketing too.

If marketers need to adopt agile, and agile requires servant leadership, then agile transformations within marketing really are going to start raising interesting questions about the nature of marketing, the sort of work it undertakes and the sorts of impacts it has on society more broadly. I’m really glad Sherilyn is raising this point too, there’s a huge amount within this area to explore.

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About The Author

Gez Smith is an agile communications coach, trainer, author and speaker, and is also the author of ‘Agile Marketing: The Incomplete Guide‘.