The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

The marketing hot seat

Anne Ward ploughs through a new book offering invaluable insights into sales and marketing, and help with your career

The Marketing Director's Handbook is a substantial and impressive reference book and at £49.99 delivers excellent value for money. If you're involved in sales or marketing at any level, it could help you save a lot of waste on your budget, a lot of angst in your daily life and offers really practical advice in furthering your company and your career. Its treatment of research might give you pause, but more of that later.

Until reading this, I hadn't appreciated quite what a hot seat the marketing director's could be. The average tenure is apparently only two years (the average for a CEO is four) — so not much time to get things done and to get them right. The marketing director, it says, has to be all of the following: architect, builder, navigator, philosopher, leader — and single-mindedly proactive at all times.

Danger of under-estimation

Despite all this, their role is probably under-valued — only 14 of the UK FTSE 100 companies have a marketing director on the board. Reading this book gave me new insight into the contextual needs and mindset of marketing directors, insight that I wish I'd had when I was a lot younger.

Given its comprehensiveness, an initial browse might suggest that this book's only for marketing directors and hopefuls in larger manufacturing or service companies. Not true — there is a lot which will be helpful for smaller organisations and entrepreneurs accustomed to wearing several hats at once. It would certainly have provided me with valuable advice on how to market myself and the very different companies in which I've worked.

The authors" credentials are rock-solid. Both Tim Arnold and Guy Tomlinson are well-known in the business and have a roll-call of blue-chip clients between them. Their practical expertise and lifetime experience shows in the content and format, as does the input from the varied big marketing names they consulted and interviewed in the creation of this book. As you'd expect from these writers, it's also very accessible and easy to read.

The Handbook is divided into four main sections — Marketing Essentials, which discusses the role of marketing in the organisation and how to get started as marketing director; The Marketing Year, which outlines detailed planning advice on all aspects from strategy development, through delivery, financial management and structuring the marketing function; Operational Leadership which covers managing colleagues, department, board, supplier agencies and customers; and finally a Major Project Planner which takes apart management elements of key projects and the different types of challenges that may be encountered.

There are a couple of helpful Appendices, one with a definitive list of books and papers for reference and further reading and the other with a crib sheet of acronyms for the jargon-resistant.

Every chapter starts helpfully with the key bullet points — "In this chapter you will learn": and ends with "Key Points to Remember". Each chapter also has its own easy listening musical reference, starting with the Introduction (The Times They are A-Changing: Bob Dylan (1964)) and ending with Marketing and the Law ("Right Thing to Do": Carly Simon (1973)) via The Doors, The Spice Girls and others. Cheesy but fun.

Visually it's very reader-friendly, well organised on the page with lots of diagrams and text boxes and plenty of white space. There are neat little visuals which signal key features — Why bother? (a microscope), Key points to remember (an elephant), Where to start ? (a key) and so on.

Every chapter has a "Ten Minute Exercise" to apply the theory into practice. There are diagrams and models, pictures and visual aids, pro forma charts, boxed and shaded summaries. All this makes the content easy to assimilate and breaks up the text nicely. Plenty of sub-headings make it quick to find your way around, with useful cross-references between chapters.

Turning to the index to look for references to qualitative research, put me firmly in my place. Research, qualitative or quantitative, is dealt with in one short chapter on Managing Market or Customer Research which also covers a definition of customer insight, constructing a research brief, in-house research options and managing agencies. There is a single page on Qualitative vs. Quantitative research methodologies — a fairly simplistic summary of traditional pros and cons — and four pages of basic qualitative methodologies summarised and compared for applications, cost, creative contribution and consumer insight delivery.

I was disappointed that there was not more about the benefits of well-designed and well-integrated qualitative research. However, quantitative colleagues finding their applications summarised in two pages would probably have been even more disheartened. Nevertheless, the authors sound like the kind of clients we'd like to work with and their advice is good. They are open-minded and up to date with contributory disciplines, techniques and tools such as ethnography, semiotics, conflict or expert groups, and creativity workshops. They favour flexibility and bricolage.

Sensible suggestions

Their template and suggestions for constructing a research brief are sensible, workmanlike and thorough. The suggestions for sourcing and selecting agencies and managing the relationship are sensitive and responsible, they stress the need for motivation, consultation and remembering that research agencies are people. It would be churlish to grumble about quantity when the content is so sound.

This is a really comprehensive guide, accessible, readable and informative. A valuable tool for marketing directors and those who aspire to be — but helpful for anyone associated with the marketing process or the need to understand marketers and their requirements. Keep it by you on the desk rather than tucked away in the bookcase.

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Anne Ward
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2009