Making Marketing Matter

Let’s face the facts.
Marketing isn’t what it once was. The pall cast by the Web 2.0 era where consumers are the beginning and end and marketers are no longer leading the brand, the demand creation process has gone awry, and to the point that corporate confidence has eroded for marketing’s function as a performance driver.
As such, it’s taken the shine off this function as a desirable career path and I’ve heard more than a few CEOs question the worth of having these people in the C-Suite.
The story isn’t over, yet.
In the past, other functions similarly lost their way, yet came back to be more relevant than they were to begin with. The one most of us can still recall is the role of the CIO and IT. There were many articles written in the early ’90s on information technology that showed that many companies had broadly adopted technologies, creating an infrastructure of phenomenal impact, the competitive advantage or ultimately the bottom line showed no or little impact. The articles read much like the ones related to the CMO role. It was a “get out” tone from CEOs who didn’t believe IT mattered. But within the last 10 years, the perception and the actual impact of IT has changed. As captured by Nicholas Carr’s famous 2004 book “Does IT Matter,” the CIO role changed from being chief spending officer of IT technology to that of an executive with a marked impact on the business. CIOs moved from being technology deployment offers within the company to being the ones who best understood what risks to manage and which long-term strategic directions would need to have a technology core that ultimately would lead to a competitive advantage.
CMOs could take a lesson from the CIO history book
The move from “spender” to “thinker” is not a move that happens over night. To support that, marketers in this web 2.0 era will have an opportunity to become much closer to their customers and thus be a fulcrum of customer insight for their companies. The costs of doing marketing will likely shift also, taking away one source of “power” that marketing people yield. But what is most fundamental is that we need to have marketers step up to be leaders of the customer voice inside the company and thus guide the strategic direction of the company.
Here’s how I think those history lessons could be applied.
First – Change your focus
Marketing’s focus is not on programs or marketing activities. Believe it or not, I don’t even think Marketing should focus on brand. Those cost money and with the lens on “doing,” there’s not enough focus on “being.” Marketing ought to be the organization that enables the company to know who they want to serve, then becomes the point of customer engagement — allowing an integration point for the consumer’s needs to be met.
Second – Take bigger leaps to identify what should be created
We’ve all spent time and resources going into a market that everyone else has already identified. Wouldn’t it be amazing if marketing could focus instead on figuring out nascent needs of consumers, then build toward them? That’s called leadership, people. And it’s not the role left up to engineers. Marketing could and, in my opinion, should weigh in on what customers really desire but don’t yet know is possible, then build for that market opportunity.
Third – Do a stop/start model
If we do what we did last year and the year before that, it makes it harder to find the resources to do anything innovative. In current day terms, that means figuring out how to shift from traditional marketing media to Web 2.0 marketing models. Since the majority of consumers are moving online, marketers need make sure we meet customers there and engage in the conversation as it’s happening. While I see little pilots and some interesting efforts, what I don’t see is someone really doing a solid etch-a-sketch moment to think about what all this means to take advantage of what is a much lower cost but distributed way of marketing.
Fourth – Be the business person first
Every firm has a context regarding what is going on — early market or late market, leading player or not, many competitors or few. These all set the context for every single decision that is made. But do we talk about it? Rarely. Marketers at all levels must know what matters to the firm. Is it growth or profit? Depending on the stage of the market and the category of the consumer, you might want to drastically look at what you need to do to fundamentally support the business.
Fifth — Play the “Me-too” game just enough to figure out the “+1” strategy
When IT was doing their big infrastructure investments in the 80s, they were all doing the same investments. The same can apply to the marketing and business strategy front. Think: What is going to be the “base case” of every competitor? Are you just heading for that target or are you thinking of ways to move to the next target — that ever-proverbial green field — before everyone else figures it out first? Step back and consider that most will be doing the base. Then think “How could we do one thing better / different / that stands out? That’s the key to winning.
Today’s nascent and emerging web business models and related consumer behaviors are creating a new opportunity. Marketers can stop focusing on spending big advertising dollar budgets and focus on creating a meaningful connection between the company and its customers. We can move from saying “we did the following activities” to saying “we created customer engagement.”
I sincerely hope the industry finds a way to stop being the rightly-earned punching bag of the C-Suite and move to being the corporate performance contributor I know it can be. I remain hopeful about what ’08 can bring to this vision.

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