Four ways to tackle cynicism about marketing

Four ways to tackle cynicism about marketing

Dominic Grounsell, the former global marketing director for Travelex and one of Campaign's Power 100 marketers, offers ideas for beating the cynics.

Given the pace of change we’re experiencing right now, marketers face a wide variety of emerging strategic and operational challenges. That said, the challenge I want to focus on is by no means a new issue. It’s an issue that perennially dogs our industry and is something that I still believe we are not doing enough to address. The issue I’m referring to is the cynicism that exists about marketing among those who work outside of the marketing bubble.

Now, I’m not suggesting that cynicism about marketing is universal, but it certainly does exist and probably to a greater degree than many would like to admit. For those of us who’ve encountered it, the criticisms are well known. Marketing is the "colouring in team". We aren’t commercial. We care more about winning creative awards than we do about delivering results. We prefer to spend time at lunches with agencies rather than in the trenches with the other functions. I could go on. 

Clearly, in most cases, these charges are highly unfair. Most marketers I know are extremely commercial, care deeply about driving results and work bloody hard on behalf of their businesses. So why the cynicism? 

While I would never suggest it’s all our own fault, here are a couple of examples of things that we do as an industry that, in my experience, fuel these negative stereotypes.

Let’s start with the perception that we’re the "colouring in" team. As the function responsible for marcomms, it is only natural that we would be passionate about creative. However, given how we behave, an outsider would be forgiven for concluding that campaigns are all we care about. We seem obsessed with who did what TV ad and herald the winning of some creative award as the pinnacle of marketing achievement. Now, obviously, I’m not saying that advertising isn’t important, but it is only ever one part of what we do and yet we spend very little time trumpeting the other vital aspects of the job like marketing strategy, segmentation, proposition development. Our narrow focus on the end execution is akin to a marathon runner only celebrating how well they ran the last couple of miles and, in my view, makes it easier for cynics to reduce our contribution to mere "colouring in". 

What about the complaints that we lack commerciality? Well, while the issues we’ve historically had proving ROI no doubt underpin some of this cynicism, we also create a rod for our own backs by not talking in the language of the business. Instead, we roll out marketing jargon and focus on marketing KPIs and that, in my experience, is usually a recipe for bewilderment, eye rolling and frustration. Anyone who’s tried to pitch the importance of dwell time to a sales team will know what I’m talking about here. By relying on obscure terminology and by not writing our narratives in the language of the business, which is financial, we distance ourselves from the discourse of the business and add credence to the stereotype that marketers just don’t "get it". 

So, if there are things we are doing that drive negative perceptions of our industry, how do we fix them? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are a couple of starters for ten. 

We need to broaden the narrative we promote internally and externally about the contribution of marketing. The spectrum of activities we perform is huge and so we need to make sure we tell the full story more often, rather than just skipping to the end and concentrating solely on the ads. 

We need to find ways to better recognise the work done in some of the less visible and glamorous parts of the industry. There are a lot of amazing people out there doing jobs that are under the radar and, while they might never win the Christmas ad war, they deserve to have their work more overtly trumpeted and celebrated across the board and in the press.

We need to work harder to adopt the language of our businesses and be more mindful of when it is advantageous to use marketing speak, and what is not. After all, it’s easier to bring people over to your way of thinking if you start by using words they understand.

Finally, we need more marketers to seek positions in other functions or in general management. The greater the diffusion of marketing thinking across the business, the less likely marketing will be misunderstood or maligned. 

These are just a few of the small steps we could take and I am sure there are many others. At stake here is our credibility as a function. We need to address cynicism wherever we find it, if we want to stay relevant in an increasingly data driven, commercially orientated world.


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