Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why Marketers get no respect

Put on your thick skin, your Kevlar vest -- this blog post is not for the faint of heart. 

The problem is not just that consumers find marketers unsavory, it is also that even within the company marketers get no respect. 

The CEO wonders how you spend your time, the CFO wonders how you spend the company’s money, the sales folks think you’re too conceptual, too abstract, and not sufficiently focused on the immediate business, and the production and supply chain guys just think you’re full of hot air. So, we have a slight image problem. And where there is smoke...

... there must be mirrors.

Let’s peer into one, and see what gives.

No, it’s not the gel in the hair, the overly-angular glasses, the impossibly pointy shoes, the (to others) unfounded rosy optimism. Those don’t help, but they’re not the only source of the image problem – we need to look beyond the superficial here (I know, tough, boring, dreary, but it needs to be done).

Here are three reasons why marketers get no respect:

  1. Marketing isn’t delivering competitive advantage. Since the heyday of mass media and mass brands, marketing's strategic contribution has diminished. It has increasingly become tactical, moving the needle on share points but only to lose them within the quarter. In many companies, marketing is no longer contributing to the building of sustainable competitive advantage. Think of the reasons your company is (or is not) reliably and consistently more profitable than its rivals in the industry. How many of those reasons are marketing reasons? You can think of at most one: brand loyalty. But loyalty is a disappearing commodity – relish it while you can. No wonder marketers aren’t making it to the top of organizations like they used to – what they’re offering the business is not strategic, and they’re not building lasting competitive advantage any more.

  1. Marketing isn’t demonstrating ROI. Not only are we not contributing to sustainable competitive advantage, we’ re still trying to convince the rest of the organization that marketing expenditure is in fact investment. We'd have an easier time doing this if we could show that money spent on Marketing has an adequate (stellar?) return on investment. Even today, when data are available on every customer's every transaction, we have difficulty demonstrating ROI. 

  1. Marketing is a cost center. The folks in Sales are pounding the pavement, engaged in tough customer negotiations, coordinating customer solutions to delivery and billing issues, moving volume, and meeting quotas. At the end of the day, they do one thing that makes them really look good: they bring in revenue. What do the marketing folks do? Conceptualize, position, create value propositions, market research, oversee agencies, and as a result: be a cost center. From the salesperson's perspective, marketers are the university professors of the corporate world -- they wouldn't know how to bring in revenue if tenure depended on it. But they do have the temerity to tell the CFO they need a multi-million dollar budget to build...wait for it... mind-space. Ha!
So what can marketing do to regain respect? Simple: contribute to sustainable competitive advantage; demonstrate ROI; and connect the dots from spend to revenue.

I know, simpler said than done.

But at least now we’ve got a To-Do list.

And for concrete ideas on each of these, continue to watch this space.

Ok, you can take off the Kevlar vest now (and while you're at it, consider pitching the pointy shoes).

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Nigel Goodwin said...

Excellent post, Niraj!
In my opinion, points 2 & 3 are particularly vital.
I believe there's a double standard when companies view the activities of the various functions. When the finance and operations departments use funds, they're "investing". When HR spends money, they're "developing" people. Yet marketing merely incurs "costs" and "expenses".
Marketers must demonstrate ROI to earn respect.
I recommend the works of Lenskold, Farris et al, Davis, and Shaw & Merrick.
To paraphrase Jack Welch, anything worth managing is worth measuring.

Nigel Goodwin said...

Further to my initial post, and for the record, I also agree with point #1. I can see it at my own MNC employer. The marketing activities are tactical, rather than strategic -- a little social media campaign, sponsorship of a trade show, etc. I don't see anything broad, enduring or (certainly not) game changing going on.

Breanne McMurray said...

Interesting post, not what I expected to say the least. Currently I am working on a project where much of my research is finding results from actions that companies have pursued, whether that be cost cutting initiatives, workforce planning, or branding of the company. For this reason I can easily relate to your post, it is VERY VERY VERY difficult to find results from marketing initiatives, and I'm not going to lie I found myself wondering why on earth companies allowed their marketing department to spend 5 mill and not have any results to show for it!
Although these thoughts are prevalent we do need to remember that marketing initiatives are important for a company to remain sustainable, we just need the evidence to back that up. Maybe an experiment, kind of like a simulation...two companies that offer the same product of the same quality, one invests in marketing initiatives, the other does not. I think we know what the results would be, but we just need the facts on paper!!!

Ivan K said...

I find #1 the most intriguing - I've imagined that the role of Chief Marketers is to make the organizational mission/vision come to fruition through the exchange process...and it was this realization of value that kept consumers coming back for more. I believe that as people we are much more purpose-driven [i.e. that we will accept an organization's ideology if it aligns with our own] and given the choice - we will choose to support those organizations that corroborate our beliefs (talk about self-serving bias!).

I would often get frustrated in marketing class - in my opinion, marketing is, more than any other function, strategic - and yet the focus has been getting more and more tactical (e.g. $2.79 or $2.99, red or blue packaging, etc,). Isn't it "marketing's" job to create a value proposition? Isn't it the differentiated and purposeful pursuit of mission/vision that creates sustainable value? Why have marketers lost that accountability?

Mitch Vine said...

At risk of being too simplistic, Marketers are prevented from being strategic because the CEO wants that job. The CEO doesn't however want to spend any time creating advertising campaigns, creating sales collateral or organizing trade shows, and so they tend to hire people who are good at those more tactical tasks.

Niraj Dawar said...

Thanks for these comments!
@Nigel: the more marketers are able to measure consumer engagement and response, the more likely they'll be managing for results, and the more the dots can be connected. But there's a catch: the shorter term those outcome measures, the more tactical marketing becomes.
@Breanne: If we can define marketing objectives, we should be able to define measures of success... Not always that easy if marketing activities have intermediate goals (e.g. creating brand liking but not immediate sales).
@Ivan: the tactical decisions should flow from the strategic direction...but often do not. When the tactical gets divorced from the strategic, it loses meaning.
@Mitch: yes, the CEO wants to retain control of strategy. But marketers need to translate that into viable value propositions...the marketer's job is to make CEO's strategy look good, and do well :)

johnbradley said...

Excellent piece Niraj.

Much of it was true 30 years ago when I joined the marketing department of a large confectionery company. The CEO thought we played office basketball all day; the CFO thought we could not be trusted to spend wisely getting in competitive samples; the sales force thought we were hopelessly out-of-touch, and manufacturing saw us as the devil incarnate.

As well as the macro solutions you suggest, any marketer who wants to really be able to influence his business needs some micro solutions as well. And the first is awareness.

It amazed me how most of my colleagues either did not see these prejudices at all or, if they did, thought them to be outrageous slurs. And it always amused me to see young, starry-eyed marketers, who joined after me with their freshly-minted MBA diplomas, start their careers clearly assuming that the rest of the business respected them for their crucial role in keeping everyone else employed.

These are fatal mistakes in building a reputation across different business functions as they will result in you being immediately pigeon-holed as 'a typical bloody marketer.' I found it extremely productive to accept the reality of their perceptions and then set to to appear to be the complete opposite.

For when I was in the elevator with the CEO, I always had some interesting market facts in my head to tell him. For the CFO, I would book a meeting to discuss how we could reduce the departments stationery bills. For the sales force I would spend 2 days a month out in the field, usually with some far-flung sales rep who hadn't had a head office visitor in years, and I would never, ever cancel it at short notice. And for manufacturing, I would constantly seek their advice on what we as marketing could change that would make poroduction processes more efficient and, for innovation ideas, ask them what else the existing machines could make.

If you stay in your ivory tower, don't be surprised if people think you are in one!

Niraj Dawar said...

Thanks John! Great to have your experienced perspective on this! I like the idea of micro solutions -- what every marketer can do.
Your conclusion on ivory towers applies to many professions besides marketing -- as an academic I can vouch that it hits home :).

Dragomir T said...

I couldn't agree more with Mitch Vine.

CEOs simply do not want to share their decision making power with anyone and marketing is about taking crucial, strategic, sometimes all or nothing decisions.

When CEOs prefer to hold that decision-making power to themselves and would not use marketers even as advisors, the quality of marketing people and their activities logically goes flat down.

Lack of ROI perspective/ focus on tactical activities/ pursuing fads/ etc are consequences. They cannot be cured on themselves because they are symptoms. The cause is in managers unwilling to delegate power and thus hiring second- and third-rate marketing people.

Then a vicious cycles gets started - these third-rate marketers often have wrong understanding of marketing, go after the superficial and contribute a lot of financial trouble. The concept of marketing gets misunderstood by the broader "company public" and the reputation of the role of marketing professionals is undermined. The cycle goes on and breeds low professionalism in the field for generations ahead.

CEOs can be happy - they have preserved power and have got secretaries glorified as "marketing somethings" who may come with additional benefits sometimes.

Long-term effects are widespread mediocrity. Even though companies are competing, they compete on mediocrity in most cases, not innovation.

If marketers want to do marketing they have to come up with new models of power distribution in a company.

Anonymous said...

People don't respect marketers because (1) marketers don't do, they piggyback off of those that do; (2) anybody with a modicum of creativity can market; and (3) so much marketing today is just annoying and off point.