According to Merriam-Webster, “commodity” is defined as:
- A good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (such as brand name) other than price.
- One that is subject to ready exchange or exploitation within a market.
Marketing is absolutely not a commodity. Marketing builds brand awareness, differentiates a product from its competition, creates loyalty and develops long-term relationships with the customer. Marketing — and marketing procurement — is about driving value rather than solely reducing costs. Strong marketing can drive exponential business growth. Marketing is absolutely not “subject to ready exchange.” Different marketing approaches will produce different results. Marketing is a “differentiator.”
Merriam-Webster defines “vendor” as:
- One that vends, i.e., to sell especially as a hawker or peddler.
Yikes! In my twenty-year agency career, I was called a vendor exactly once. It was demeaning and insulting. I responded back by saying that a vendor sells hot dogs at the ballpark and, instead, the agency was a marketing partner to the client.
Also from Merriam-Webster, a “supplier” is:
- One that provides the quantity or amount (as of a “commodity”) needed or available.
This word isn’t quite as negative as “vendor,” but it still stings a bit, as it implies the product or service being provided is a “commodity.” In a limited number of cases, it can be applied to marketing — e.g., the purchase of paper for in-store signage. But marketing procurement would be better off also eliminating (or severely restricting) the use of the word altogether.
Instead, let’s consider words like “partner” and “alliance.”
- A “partner” is one associated with another, especially in an action.
- An “alliance” is an association to further the common interests of the members.
Marketing procurement should consider the above perspective in their actions, as well as how they are presented on their respective business cards, i.e., their job titles. Who would you rather work with, the “Director of Vendor Management” or the “Director of Media and Agency Partnerships?” The “Commodity Manager” or the “Alliances Manager?”
Words matter! The ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference (April 28-May 1 in Phoenix) is the industry’s largest gathering for marketing procurement and agency finance. Let’s continue this discussion there.
Bill Duggan is Group Executive Vice President of the ANA. His responsibilities focus on management of the association’s portfolio of marketing and media committees and associated conferences, as well as thought leadership related to committees.