Mark L. Johnson / February 2015
Not long ago, consulting firm McKinsey & Company held a roundtable discussion with executives on the future of marketing. American Express CMO John Hayes said that marketing was undergoing a revolution—a power struggle over who controls a product or service’s marketing message.
“The world is going to decide whether or not [it] has real value, talk about it, and then position it pretty much how they want to position it,” he said.
Does it seem fair that others can drive, for good or bad, your brand’s story? Maybe not, but that’s reality. You can spread your own marketing message, but others can chime in, too.
“You’re still 100 percent accountable for the outcome,” Hayes says.
Marketing in 2015
Fundamentally, marketing is the action of promoting and selling products or services. It’s the business of persuasion.
In the old days, you had (1) an advertising agency create and place your ads, (2) a marketing firm develop and manage campaigns and events and (3) a public relations firm cultivate media attention for your brand. To do this, you set a whopping budget.
Today, technology has changed everything. Suddenly, according to David Siteman Garland of TheRiseToTheTop.com, “things are smarter, faster, cheaper as opposed to dumber, slower, expensive.” We no longer need overpriced agencies to do our marketing work. We can do it ourselves. If we need help, specialized firms and freelancers can create blow-out content as professional and as exciting as do the big boys on Madison Avenue.
But there’s more. Marketing has now become fully integrated at the top the company. If this hasn’t happened at your firm, then you may need to “promote” the marketing function to a new level.
“Marketing in many people’s minds is little more than communications and advertising. It’s viewed as a tactical communications function rather than a strategic growth driver,” says Bill Boulding, dean and J.B. Fuqua professor of business administration at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business (emphasis mine). “We have to reposition marketing as a strategic role that drives above-market growth based on a deep knowledge of the customer.”
Why is that?
“Customers move in the moment, but corporate budgets and processes are quarterly and annually. That just won’t cut it,” Boulding says. “[Today’s marketing] requires not just fundamentally better systems, but also different ways of working to react and move in real time with the customer.”
Here’s how I put it: Small agencies can’t stand in for you online. Only you can form meaningful, lasting relationships through social media networks. Sure, we can create an awesome look and feel for your brand. We can drop those assets into place when you set up your social media accounts and help you create compelling ongoing brand content. But only you can reach out and make the digital small talk necessary to cultivate prospects. There’s no way to automate the art of online schmoozing. You have to make it happen.
Set aside time to interact socially online in real time with customers. Do this while your marketing team orchestrates the pursuit of relevant communications and issues content to convey your brand’s value. Let marketing direct your strategic communication plan. You (company presidents and other top executives) do the rest: Make personal connections, cultivate an image of trust, and do this all in real time.
The Strategy Table
Marketing has already become a strategic function in the consumer goods industry. But in the business-to-business world, many marketers remain frustrated. They serve in a tactical role. They don’t yet have a seat at the table of strategic development in their firms. A few are dismayed by the lack of “investment in and quality of data to prove the ROI of marketing,” as Boulding puts it.
You be different. Don’t think of marketing as a department within the company, but as a crucial discipline with a leadership role.
Be excited about today’s marketing revolution. If your drywall firm has a great reputation, then welcome others’ contributions to your marketing conversation. Your message will catch fire in the marketplace.
It’s up to you. Make it happen.
Mark L. Johnson is an industry marketing consultant and writer. He tweets at @markjohnsoncomm and connects at linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.