The changing face of marketing
John D. Louth
This article from the McKinsey Quarterly archive analyzes six
major changes that promised to transform future marketing
efforts. These forces have largely proved to be as influential as
predicted and continue to shape today’s challenges.
Change is the dominant fact of life in every business today. And the ability to master and
exploit change has become one of the most sought-after management skills. This is particularly
true in marketing, where the very tempo of change is constantly quickening.
Today’s chief executive faces a baffling dilemma. Change gets costlier every day; yet not changing
can be costlier still. And even while adapting to change, a company’s marketing effort must reflect
an internal constancy of purpose and an external consistency of image.
Not all changes in marketing, of course, are equally significant. Some are confined to particular
industries. Others are broader and more functional in nature. And among these broader trends,
there are six whose effects, I believe, will be felt by almost every business.
The dominance of the customer
It is nearly a truism that the needs and wants of the consumer are the critical issues today in
creating new products and services, and developing the accompanying plans to merchandise them
at a profit. But this trend—the first on my list—is still in process of evolution. The need to
understand and anticipate future customers is bound to become even more essential than in the
past, because the end users of almost every company’s products are shifting in makeup, location,
and number at an ever-increasing rate.
The significance of this to senior marketing executives is twofold: First, they cannot—indeed, they
must not—assume that yesterday’s customers will be available tomorrow. Second, they had better
be certain that they have adequate sources of market information. Unless they can keep up with
The changing face of marketing what is happening to their markets, the whole company’s selling effort may ultimately be directed
at the wrong people with the wrong products and at the wrong time. This is what a marketing vice
president I know meant when he said, “My company’s sales output can’t be any better than my
Consider a few of the changes in the nature of consumers and markets:
• Sociologists and marketers agree that people are becoming more interested in use than in
ownership. One can rent or lease everything from garden tools to machine tools to cars. Annual
rental income, not including car and truck rentals, is close to the $750 million mark. The value
of equipment being leased, currently about $1 billion, may well double in five years. This trend
could affect the channels of selling, pricing arrangements, sales appeals, or even the
characteristics of the product line (such as the increasing sale of disposable items).
• There has been disproportionate growth in the market for personal services, including
recreation, education, and travel. Depending on whose statistics you choose to believe,
consumer services now account for 40 percent to 50 percent of all consumer purchases.
• A whole series of demographic changes hold significance for the producer of consumer
goods—in particular, the explosive growth of the teenage and young-adult market, the migration
of blue-collar workers to the suburbs, the increase in per capita income, and the ever-growing
mobility of our population. To the consumer-goods manufacturer, the wholesaler, and the
retailer, this means there is no such thing as stability of customers.
• People’s tastes are becoming more varied, flexible, and demanding. As just one example,
consider the demand for wood products. The traditional lumber manufacturer now produces
and sells a multitude of products that were virtually unknown 20 years ago—and all because
product research teamed up with marketing to develop products that people wanted and were
willing to buy.
Another important result of this growing consumer dominance is that today nearly all sales
potentials are segmented. Typically, a total market now comprises a series of submarkets, each
with its own characteristics and each demanding a different sales approach. For most companies,
it is a gross error to develop a marketing program aimed at the “average customer.” Today such a
consumer, or such a company, hardly exists. In short, the company that is not alert to the
customers’ needs and the changing complexities of marketplaces is inviting disaster.
The spread of marketing research
The second trend is the increased use of marketing research—in terms of both quantity and scope.
To an important degree, of course, this trend is a response to the first. If knowledge about future
customers is essential, and if the quality of the marketing output is materially affected by the
caliber of the informational input, then marketing research is bound to increase in use and
contribution as the interest in more scientific marketing grows.
The dimensions of this trend are suggested by the membership growth of the American Marketing
Association (AMA) from 2,800 in 1950 to an estimated 13,000 by mid-1966. Most of the increase
represents marketing research, not individuals from the academic fields. As long as seven years
ago, according to a national study by the AMA, nine out of ten companies with sales of $25 million
or more had at least one marketing researcher on their staffs.
Today, the bulk of company marketing research is devoted to such activities as development of
market potentials (for both existing and new products), analysis of customer buying habits and
requirements, measurement of advertising effectiveness, share-of-market studies, determination
of market characteristics, sales analysis, establishment of sales quotas, and development of sales
territories. Beyond this value in reporting on historical and current conditions, however, I see a
trend toward increased use of marketing research as a creative tool to help solve future
For example, it can be used to help management determine the most effective channels of
distribution for a particular product line. By coupling distribution-cost analysis with accurate
research on shifts in consumer attitudes, a marketer may uncover the need for a major shift in
distribution policy. Such a sophisticated response to changed customer attitudes can be seen in
the fact that Chanel No. 5, fine oil paintings, and expensive mink coats now can be purchased at
Sears Roebuck, which also is the single largest retailer of diamonds in the United States.
Again, consider the function of marketing research in the evaluation of a major acquisition.
Recently, a maker of industrial-machinery components became interested in acquiring a
somewhat smaller company in a different but related business. On paper, and particularly from a
financial viewpoint, the proposed acquisition looked desirable. But a careful research effort in the
field revealed that two competitors of the company under review had considerably better
reputations for customer service and, more important, much superior research-and-development
capabilities. Thus a potentially disastrous purchase was avoided.
Salespeople’s compensation is another area where a creative marketing-research group can make
helpful contributions. Today, many companies are trying to orient salespeople’s efforts toward
profitable sales rather than volume alone. But before a compensation plan can be geared to this
objective, careful thought must be given to identifying and measuring the profitability of
customers, the profit relationships among the various products, the costs of carrying out the
various selling activities, and the feasibility of any new sales-control system that may be required.
Marketing research can help to provide revealing analyses and reliable recommendations on each
of these factors. Other management problems calling for inputs from marketing research include
pricing decisions, test marketing of new and/or revised products, and estimates of future
Obviously, the broadening scope of marketing research should materially increase the efficiency
of the total marketing function. In some companies today, it is worth noting, the head of
marketing research is a member of a product-planning committee, a marketing-strategy
committee, or even a company-wide long-range planning committee—clear evidence of top
management’s growing realization that marketing-research people can make a vital contribution
to planning decisions and marketing strategies.
The rise of the computer
The third major trend marketing must consider is the emergence of electronic data-processing
equipment as a major tool of scientific marketing not only for reporting data but also, more
importantly, for planning and control by management.
Generally speaking, I think it must be conceded that companies have dragged their feet in
taking advantage of electronic data-processing analyses, online communications, and
information-retrieval systems as tools to help make marketing more efficient. But the
computerization of many areas of marketing is only a matter of time. Consider a few current
applications of these techniques:
• A major insurance company analyzes sales performance daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly,
comparing current figures with last year’s performance and this year’s goals. The input
information is fed into 15 satellite computers at 15 regional headquarters. After processing the
sales data (a complex task in the insurance industry, since so many pertinent details are
routinely involved for every policy sold) these machines feed back the essential sales
information to two master computers at headquarters. There the data are summarized
and printouts are made on Friday night. By Monday morning, the reports are on the
• A West Coast apparel manufacturer now adjusts the initial merchandising forecasts in light
of salespeople’s bookings, then develops the cutting orders for three plants day by day in
relation to inventories on hand. Salespeople and management are kept abreast of trends daily
during the key selling periods and weekly thereafter. Major merchandising decisions are made
on the basis of current information that was not available before the installation of electronic
• One of the largest industrial distributors in the West has set up an online electronic dataprocessing
system that enables its key customers to place purchase orders for major products
by using prepunched cards that bear the price and quantity information. These purchase
orders are automatically transmitted to the distribution center for processing, billing, and
shipping—freeing the salespeople from much routine order taking and permitting them to
spend more time on individual customer problems.
• There are, of course, many other possible applications of electronic equipment as an aid to the
marketing function. And in the years to come, the use of electronic equipment by marketing
management will certainly increase.
Expanded use of test marketing
A fourth important trend, in my opinion, will be toward more controlled experimentation to
narrow the odds of an error in making marketing changes.
Two major influences emphasize the need for further expansion of test marketing. The
first is the rising cost of marketing changes: the costs, for example, of introducing new products
and packaging, of developing new advertising and promotional programs, and of
The second influence is the mounting investment in product research and development. About
half of all corporate research-and-development activity in the United States today is concerned
with the creation of new commercial products. The resulting outpouring of new products may
measurably shorten the product life cycle and reduce the payout time correspondingly. This is
one reason so many innovations in consumer goods are test-marketed before being placed in
national distribution, even though the product may have been checked out in the laboratory and
its sales potential assessed through marketing research.
What kind of projects should be considered for test marketing? Here are a few examples:
• Evaluating new products and new product features or services in relation to market
potentials. This kind of application, accepted in the food industry for many years, has only
recently been used to determine whether customers would support further processing and
fabrication of sheet and plate products by industrial distributors.
• Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of new packaging. New frozen-food
containers for berry products went through regional market tests on the West Coast before
• Evaluating the effects of a new sales-incentive plan. A shift from individual incentives to a
group plan was tested by a pharmaceutical manufacturer in San Diego, St. Louis, and Atlanta
before being installed nationwide.
• Determining the advantages, if any, of new delivery and service practices. A machinery
manufacturer used test marketing to determine whether to expand its customer-service
program. When the results indicated that customers would not pay the added cost when faced
with the reality of signing up for the added service, the proposal was dropped.
• Evaluating the effectiveness of alternative advertising media and approaches. Here
again, an established technique in many consumer-goods industries is being more widely
applied in testing alternative media and promotional approaches for the marketing of
Some marketing projects can be tested quickly and relatively inexpensively through computer
simulation. For example, a leading US pharmaceutical company has used simulation to
determine the sales and profit impact of servicing small orders and/or small customers by using
jobbers and/or parcel post and/or not selling them at all—and all this under a variety of
assumed reactions by competitors.
With or without computers, however, I believe that increased use of test marketing under
controlled conditions will be an important future trend in marketing.
Metamorphosis of field selling
The fifth trend I foresee is a shift in the nature of the field-selling job toward a more integrated,
profit-oriented marketing effort.
A typical salesperson today represents a major investment of company funds. A 1964 survey by
the Sales Executives Club of New York placed average training costs at $8,731 per person,
excluding pay. Keeping a typical salesperson on the road may easily average $15,000 to $17,000
of direct costs per year, including compensation. To achieve a satisfactory return on this
investment, the salesperson must sell profitably—not just bring in volume. The job is becoming
less and less the presentation of the company’s product line, more and more the marketing of
Consider some of the ways an apparel salesperson now works with retailers:
• selecting the products for the coming selling season and establishing inventory standards
• maintaining stocks at proper levels and reordering as necessary (frequently utilizing
electronic data processing)
• helping to train retail clerks
• establishing advertising schedules and assuring proper in-store tie-ins
• executing in-store promotions
• counseling on style trends and helping to move or shift slow-moving merchandise
In other words, such a salesperson is carrying out a field-marketing effort that involves
products, market analysis, advertising, promotion, and inventory control.
In another case, a sales representative for chemical fertilizers helps distributors sell to their
customers, the dealers, through financing services and marketing-research assistance. The sales
rep may even have to set up merchandising programs to help select and train salespeople for the
distributors. Thus, the emphasis is on helping customers increase their profits so that the
company, in turn, can prosper.
Another important continuing trend in the field-sales job is the ever-increasing impact of keyaccount,
or selective, selling. In most industries, a limited number of customers have a growing
profit importance. In grocery retailing, for example, there are 20 percent fewer outlets today
than in 1958. In industrial manufacturing, 10 to 20 percent of the customers may account for as
much as 80 percent of sales, and an even bigger share of profits.
Thus, key-account selling is becoming an increasingly crucial feature of the field-sales job—a
trend with important implications. In many companies, a key-account selling program may
entail special analysis of present and potential customers, and the establishment of related
control reports to measure profit results with particular accounts. It may include assigning
these accounts to senior salespeople and developing special selling programs and promotional
materials for these key customers. And it may call for special attention from the home office,
such as periodic field calls and review by key executives or even establishment of an executive
responsible solely for the key-account selling program.
In the net, there is little doubt that tomorrow’s salespeople will be different from yesterday’s
breed. They are going to be more highly trained and better paid; they are going to be planning
oriented, service oriented, and technically skilled—in short, sophisticated marketers.
Global market planning
An ever-broadening application of the marketing concept to worldwide markets is the last of the
six broad trends that I believe will change the face of marketing in the next few years. Over the
past decade, the marketing concept has become widely accepted in the United States—perhaps,
in some situations, too enthusiastically accepted and too indiscriminately applied. Nevertheless,
I believe the concept of a completely integrated marketing effort is valid and will be increasingly
adopted. In many companies operating worldwide, it will stimulate the development of global
Expenditures by US companies on plant and equipment abroad, which were $5.1 billion
in 1963, $6 billion in 1964, and $7.5 billion in 1965, may well exceed $9 billion in 1966. For
manufacturing operations alone (excluding petroleum refining), expenditures abroad rose by
30.5 percent last year, while domestic plant and equipment expenditures advanced 15.7 percent.
And mergers, licensing agreements, joint ventures, and the establishment of wholly owned
foreign subsidiaries by US companies overseas are continually on the rise.
For the smaller company, this trend may emphasize the need to establish or strengthen
export relationships so that it too may market on a worldwide basis. For many larger
companies, it points to a day when the United States may be merely a domestic division within
the worldwide corporation.
This means that top management must think through how best to coordinate a multinational
selling effort to assure adequate corporate control over a worldwide marketing plan—yet
without unduly restricting initiative and responsibility within each national segment. An
important part of this problem is determining how to provide most efficiently the marketing
services needed—services that in many companies today are directed, if not executed outright,
by a central corporate staff.
But this matter of becoming a worldwide company is only one of the major pressures in the
changing complexities of business today. To keep pace with these changes, and to play the
strong role in the future that I believe to be the key challenge to marketing executives, the face
of the marketing function will have to change accordingly.
John D. Louth was a principal in McKinsey’s San Francisco office and specialized in problems
of organization, marketing, and sales management. This article, which was based on a
presentation he made to a West Coast marketing-executives group in 1964, appeared in the
autumn 1966 issue of McKinsey Quarterly. It was adapted for the Quarterly with permission
from Dun’s Review, which had published an earlier version in April 1966.
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