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The 'Flowery' Department called Marketing

  Mar 6, 2015

By Patrick Ndungu


I sat, as a bystander, through a focus group discussion comprised of executives in the Marketing profession. This discussion was hosted at Strathmore Business School by the Special Projects Department in collaboration with the International School of Advertising.


The purpose of the discussion was to review the curriculum for a program on Brand Communications ROI to be offered by SBS and ISA, slated for later this year. The discussions were very intense and very insightful.


As I am primarily in business development, it was an eye-opener to see that the marketing departments, regardless of the industry, always come up against the same cold and heartless enemy; the finance department, its elder, meaner sibling. It seems to love emotionally torturing the younger sibling. During the discussion, I witnessed the younger sibling’s venting.


What is the crux of the matter? Why don’t these siblings seem to ever get along? Here is my layman’s observation on the sibling rivalry.


The finance department is the elder brother called Ebenezer Scrooge (a focal character of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol). He loves his figures and his money. Everything in this world can and ought to be represented in either 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 or 0. Figures and his money are and always will be his one and only true love. He is happy to live a life of absolute misery, as long as he does not lose a single coin of his beloved money.


The younger sister is the Little Mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. She has fallen deeply in love with the external world; the world outside of the sea (the company). She loves to go to the shore and admire the world of the humans; admire their princes, big buildings and huge ships. She would love to sing for the world as she has a good voice.


The Little Mermaid wants to take it a step further; she wants to get legs and a human soul so that she can get even closer to the humans, and in particular the prince, whom she has fallen in love with. In Hans Christian Andersen’s 1836 version, the Little Mermaid goes to the Sea Witch to get legs and a human soul, but in this adaptation, she goes to her brother Ebenezer Scrooge. Just like the Sea Witch, Ebenezer wants her tongue in exchange for the legs and the soul. On top of that Ebenezer Scrooge (just like the Sea Witch) adds on a perpetual excruciating pain to her legs.


The Little Mermaid agrees and she sets off. She meets the Prince but she cannot talk, she can only dance for him in excruciating agony. Surprisingly, the Prince falls in love with her. Later, the King orders the Prince to marry the daughter of a neighboring king and he does. The Little Mermaid is heartbroken. The Prince is gone and all she is left with is excruciating pain in her legs.


The Little Mermaid opts to jump into the ocean than suffer the heartbreak and pain in her legs. The Little Mermaid feels her body dissolve but she does not cease to exist. She feels the sun and no pain. She has turned into a spirit; a daughter of the air. She realizes that this is because she received the soul.


The finance department seems to facilitate the marketing department only to the extent that they can dance. They receive and acknowledge huge budgets from the marketing department and everything is okay as long as the marketing department is making nice fliers and brochures, issuing questionnaires and attending and hosting local events. This is the dancing.


When the marketing department wants to sing; hire out huge billboards, advertise on TV and radio, Ebenezer Scrooge cuts out her tongue.


He suddenly remembers that that money is needed for some internal operations and hands over to Judas Maccabeus (a Jewish warrior in the deuterocanonical scriptural texts of the Maccabees, who was very adept in operations on the battle-field against the dictatorial Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes), the operations director.
Maccabeus has indicated that he needs a new state of the art machine that can cut down on wastage by 23% and thus save the company from operational loss. Ebenezer is more inclined to give him the money than to see it go to the Little Mermaid.


The Little Mermaid is unable to speak Ebenezer’s love language. The Little Mermaid tries her best to remind him of fun times they have had together before but Ebenezer promptly retorts; “The 20% increase in sales occasioned last year is not out of your efforts; it is because Maccabeus reduced his costs that we were able to sell more of our products at a lower price, and more people purchased our them. Your marketing efforts (all your singing) only lost us money. I do not see any contribution that you have made. Please go away and do not come back to ask for money to run a TV advert.”


The Little Mermaid, so hurt and broken, is distraught, she has no capacity to woo the prince (the customer). The customer ends up getting married to another product partly because he cannot hear the Little Mermaid talk, let alone sing, as Scrooge has her tongue and, moreover, the King (friends and family) has led him on to the other product.


The Little Mermaid jumps into the ocean of despair and anguish and dies. She then emerges as a nebulous spirit that can have very little effect on the human world. She can only give the room (the company) a nice breeze (good will) but she has been labeled as one who can never pay homage to Ebenezer Scrooge in gold and silver coins.


Ebenezer scoffs that the Little Mermaid often offers him homage with flowers and yet he has no need for flowers whatsoever.


Can anyone come to the aid of the Little Mermaid? Can anyone help her pull, out of the 20% increase in sales, her direct contribution so that she can report that if not for of her spending, the 20% increase would have been a 13% increase?
The Special Projects Department of Strathmore Business School (SBS) is hard at work to find a solution for the Little Mermaid. The department is lining up knights in shining armor (industry experts and faculty members) to come to the aid of the Little Mermaid.


The Strathmore Business School team is developing tools and parameters for assessing the effectiveness of Brand Communications. This will be delivered to industry practitioners through the program on Brand Communications ROI to be offered later this year.


Patrick Ndung’u is the Senior Manager of the Agribusiness and Special Projects Department at SBS.


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