Upping the stature of the Marketing function in India

by rohit on August 24, 2014

After a break of four plus years, am back with a post on Marketer’s Kaleidoscope. In August 2010, I set up Interskale Digital Marketing and Consulting, a digital marketing firm, which has kept me very busy. I now intend to find time and write with some regularity. As usual, the posts will be mainly (though not only) on marketing and on the Internet and with special reference to the Indian market.

This week’s post reflects on the absence of any debate in our country on using Marketing for the common and economic good. There is a fair amount of excitement and economic debate especially after the new government has come in, but Marketing and marketing people are not to be seen or heard of.

A. Poor stature of the Marketing function

Data, facts and first hand observations by yours truly indicate:

1. India has a low per capita ad spend.

At $ 5 per capita, India’s ad spend is less than 1% of the spend of a mature economy viz. the U.S. Even allowing for the differences in purchasing power, the spend level is less than 10% that of the U.S.

An ad spend is an indicator of the how mature (or sophisticated) an economy’s marketing activities are.

2. Marketing cannot be deemed to be a profession.

While banking, medicine, information technology, law, architecture, chartered accountants, cost accountants, company secretaries, human resources, design and the like are all well acknowledged to be professions, marketing cannot, certainly not in India, be considered as one. For one, there is no leading marketing body or association. For the other disciplines above, you have the Computer Society of India, ICAI, ICWAI, Council of Architects, Medical Council et al, but not for marketing.

In other countries, professional bodies do exist for Marketing. In the U.K. there is a Chartered Institute of Marketers and the Marketing Society and the U.S. has the American Marketing Association. Such industry associations serve to set and maintain standards, create programmes to develop professionals and otherwise serve as the focal point for the discipline. This point was touched upon in a previous blog post too.

Even for advertising, PR and direct marketing, which are sub-disciplines of marketing, there are professional associations and/or certifications/certifying bodies in India, but not for marketing itself.

3. There are very few marketers in the first place.

According to a study I did using LinkedIn, less than 2% of corporate professionals in India are in the Marketing function (identified by whether they have the word Marketing in their job title, so not exact, but indicative nonetheless).

There are no Marketing people in organizations below 50 people. Even in those with 50-1000 employees, these are just a handful. It must be quite lonely being a marketer at such companies. It is only when you come to 1000+ companies that you find a team of marketers. Here are the stats (data generated courtesy of the Advanced search function within my LinkedIn Premium account):

Now, the percentage of marketers may be low in other countries too (a quick analysis I did for the U.S. market, using LinkedIn, seems to point to this). However, in India, these low number adds to the low status problem overall (considering all points 1 to 5 herein).

4. Marketing is not a key draw for fresh talent.
Marketing was the most desired choice among the MBAs who graduated in the 80s. Close to two-fourths of my IIMA batch of 1983 opted for this. Today, barely a 5th* of all graduates take up marketing jobs (actually sales & marketing together makes a fifth, the marketing roles itself will be less than half of these).

5. A marketing culture exists within select organizations only.
Thus, people bearing titles with “Marketing” in them exist in very many companies, but they are not usually well-trained or experienced nor do they play a strategic role. The realization that a brand needs to be built is often lacking.

Even the tactical or purely communications role marketers (called Marcom in B2B companies) are required to play is not being well performed. Websites, visiting cards, brochures, corporate presentations et al, which these marketers are responsible for are often of poor quality.
Sales-led initiatives still have pride of place. CVs talk of “Sales & Marketing professionals (such people primarily being Sales people with short marketing stints in between).

B. The problem with having a low stature for the marketing function
This is unfortunate as marketing can be a force for good, both for growth in an economy and for taking head on societal challenges too.

Manufacturing accounts for just 15% of India’s GDP, one of the lowest among large countries. At the same time there are 40 to 50 million SMEs who are in dire need of creating demand for their products and services. And while our companies are tiny, the customer and quality orientation is poor. Our organizations have not penetrated global markets. India is not a major exporting nation.

Marketing can be a driver for social betterment too. Endemic challenges facing Indian society all need good communications and marketing people. Let’s take an example. India has a very low rate of organ donation, with about half a million people waiting for organs but only a few hundred getting organ transplants each year. Marketing can help overcome religious prejudices and build awareness.

Again, consider sanitation. Only a quarter of rural householders understand that washing hands prevents diarrhoea (“Sanitation in India: The final frontier”, The Economist, July 19, 2104). This is another problem amenable to marketing communication, rural marketing expertise et al.

To conclude, there is a need to raise the standing of marketing in India. Efforts in this regard will have a multiplier effect on our economy and our lives. How this can be done is best the subject of another post.


*Based on placement records of three leading management institutes viz. IIMA, IIM Indore & SP Jain, as seen in their placement records for the graduating batches of 2014.

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