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So I have been travelling again. As I travel I begin to appreciate that sunny idylls are soon not so much so when you look below the sunny and hot exterior. I also appreciate that some of the things we in the western, developed, world take for granted are just not present elsewhere.

This time the thing that struck me most was the absence or relative underdevelopment of marketing. I notice this not just because I am slowly making my way through a marketing PhD, but also because marketing is all around us at this time of year.

Christmas and the consumption and holidays associated with it are, in many ways, marketing’s most triumphant creation. When you hear that businesses declare that Christmas is a crucial trading period and that 1/3 of some businesses yearly turnover happens in the Christmas period you begin to appreciate just how consumption oriented we in the western world have become.

Yet on my travels I have been to places that are stripped bare of marketing. So how is it? It is strangely disorientating. Marketing, if we take it as a democratising and positive function, designed to produce and deliver goods efficiently to the consumer, is designed to sense market needs and provide a reference point for consumers to be able to navigate choices and provide a basis of trust in the health, safety and quality of goods provided.

Yet on my travels you find drinks in plain bottles (probably locally produced) with no label as to what they are, who made them, no health claims, no sell by date, no relative statement of their price point or quality. You buy food that is not overprocessed, but locally produced and made with ‘home’ ingredients. The nearest UK experience I can think of is buying a made up sandwich from a local bakery (with real bread, that you can buy yourself).  Compare that to the engineered experiences of Pret a Manger , Subway or Greggs (other sandwich sellers are available).

So which is better? The old romantic in me would love to switch off the noise of modern western life and go back to local production. Yet I do love a fantastically engineered Starbucks coffee and mince pie. I love the glitz and glamour of Christmas. I still romanticise the New York shopping experience.

So I would argue that marketing, at its best, has made significant strides for us in the western world. Yet I can see that marketing is not essential. You can survive without marketing. You can survive without the excessive consumption of Christmas.  Yet even with all of this marketing you still (daily) have poor customer experiences and intractable poor delivery where organisations and their delivery should, simply, be better. So marketing and its presence is not an automatic delivery panacea. If so, how would poor customer service exist?

So what does this mean for us in our internal audit roles? Should we be more demanding of our marketing functions? Should they do more to justify their existence (if society can do without it)? Or should we ask that marketing actually delivers more and on its theoretical promise?

I think we as auditors should be more demanding of our marketing colleagues. We should move them beyond press management as internal agents of the external press, and focus them on the core of marketing, customer orientation. If all organisations were genuinely customer oriented, then all of our lives would be better.

So perhaps we as auditors should ensure that marketing either self-actualises or gives up, for as my travels have shown me, marketing is western luxury that we simply do not need, we rather want.

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