Can marketing game the system?

2nd Mar 2022

“Gaming the system” is a term that refers to the way people in organizations will, if allowed to, operate the corporate organization to their own advantage, rather than to the advantage or objectives of the organization in which they are employed. Gaming the system can operate in all aspects of an organization, and is the result of weak management.

As organizations grow, so they become more complex and difficult to manage, Bureaucracy tends to increase, and “the system” starts to operate for the benefit of the business rather than that of the customer who provides the income. Without good management, leadership and direction, silo mentality can develop in business departments and with it the opportunity for staff to “Game the System.”

Marketing is the management process that encompasses all those activities which produce sustainable profitable income by anticipating and satisfying customer demand.  The responsibility of every commercial manager is to produce a sustainable flow of profitable income for the long term future of the business by managing, motivating and directing all the personnel collectively responsible for satisfying customer requirements. 

In most small and medium enterprises (SMEs} marketers will not have the luxury of marketing departments supporting them, but will have to be masters of many disciplines, What is certain is that  their performance  can be directly measured in terms of the sustainable profitable revenue that is produced and the costs and investment required producing it. In most SMEs, every penny counts, so marketers have to be clear about what they do, how they do it, what it costs and how much money they contribute.

However in larger firms, the responsibilities and accountability of marketers can be quite different. In these firms and organizations, the marketing department can be a place where some people build successful careers by developing their own image, but potentially wasting time and money by avoiding the scrutiny and the quantified measurement of their real contribution. How do they do it? If they are “Gaming the system,” how is the commercial manager to know?

There are still many marketers who, while publically agreeing that marketing performance should be measureable, privately consider marketing to be an art that does not lend itself to meaningful measurement and will do their upmost to ensure that it stays that way.

The enthusiastic pursuance of various marketing fads, such as unsuitable CRM packages, ventures into “Total Quality Marketing,” or unnecessary and expensive re-branding exercises that do nothing to increase income, but add substantially to costs, are just some the activities where time and money is wasted . These activities may be summed up in the term “Gaming the system”.

How do Marketers “Game the System”? There are many ways, often related to “visionary ideas” that do not relate to the purpose of producing sustainable profitable revenue, either in the present or the future. Here are just a few:

  • Maintaining the idea that marketing and sales are two different disciplines, rather than accepting sales as being that integral part of the marketing function, which is directly concerned with customer satisfaction and income production.
  • By eschewing responsibility of sales, marketers can avoid being accountable for income generation.
  • By pretending that marketing is a strategic expense without which a company withers and dies, rather than in the management process that that requires investment to produce sustainable profitable income by identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer demand.
  • When sales go up, claiming that it was the money spent on advertising and communications that produced the increase in sales. Alternatively, when sales go down, claiming that without advertising and communication, sales would have been worse. Since in most cases the effect of advertising and promotional activity can rarely be quantified accurately, these views are difficult to contradict. 
  • By ensuring that all reports are written with the latest jargon and “business speak” in order to confuse the reader and disguise the paucity of the argument.
  • By convincing the company that its future development depends on a large budget to “invest” in a new corporate image, logo and vision statement, all of which are expensive, but not necessarily contributively to producing profitable revenue
  • Ensuring that all performance measurements are based on activity not results, thus avoiding any performance measurement that would allow management to assess the overall contribution in a quantified manner. Defending the need for large budgets, but ignoring the need to quantify the resulting contribution.

It's very easy for marketers to spend money to develop brand, market share and customer relations, but it is much harder to demonstrate directly how such investment contributes to producing profitable income. “System gamers” may have no difficulty in demonstrating what and where they have spent money, but justifying what was spent, in the amount of profitable income produced may be a lot harder.

“Gaming the system” works contrary to the business interests of a firm, because it wastes time and investment. Therefore recognizing how “Gaming the system” can manifest itself in marketing organizations is important, if commercial managers are to effectively counter its effects. To do this, commercial managers need to;

  • Accept that getting and retaining business costs money and therefore all investment, costs and assets must be used efficiently and effectively
  • Ensure that all activities involved have quantifiable performance measurements based on results. 
  • Ensure that marketing staff have clear job descriptions with defined areas of interest and responsibilities.

Marketers have an important role in every business, as they have to produce the income on which it will survive and grow. Those with ability will prove their worth in the income they produce and the efficiency with which they do it. Those that “game the system” will ultimately be found out, either by diligent management, or their firm’s bankruptcy resulting from their failure to produce the profitable income necessary for its long term future.



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