In a recent article, Andrew Ehrenberg writes that “many goals in marketing are unrealistic” and “doomed to failure from the start.” His comments appeared in a piece titled “Marketing: Are You Really a Realist?” in Strategy+Business, the newsletter from Booz Allen Hamilton, the global management and technology firm.

Ehrenberg, a professor of marketing at London South Bank University, writes that marketers are “chasing rainbows” in setting impossible objectives around sustained growth, brand differentiation, persuasive advertising, profit maximization and knowledge management.

As implied by Ehrenberg's commentary, the first objective is hyperbolic, the second is futile, the third is temporary, the fourth is unrealistic and the fifth is often unusable and ungeneralizable.

In a nutshell, Ehrenberg states that marketers need to set achievable goals that fit within the marketing purview. This objective seems reasonable. But it belies the fact that marketing's outputs should be an integral part of a company's corporate and business unit strategies, which often include profit hunts, growth initiatives, and brand extensions.

In many ways, marketing's decisions are a company's strategy, along with some sort of feasibility analysis and a potential ROI check. Four key areas are pertinent to any business/growth strategy, which marketing should be prime on: which offerings, which segments, what value proposition and which channels.

Which Offerings?

A fundamental business decision is which products and/or services a company will offer. In general, the main objective is to fill a need in a profitable manner. The first question is, What need are you trying to fill? The second is, Can you fill it in a profitable manner?

If you don't know the answer to the first question, then it's hard to understand the customer benefits and your value proposition to the market. If you don't know the answer to the second question, you could become another or Webvan in losing hundreds of millions of dollars (over a billion in the latter case) of other people's capital.

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Michael L. Perla is a principal consultant at a sales and marketing consulting firm. He can be reached at