Marketing needs to do a better job of marketing marketing

Advertising effectiveness expert, James Hurman, jots down his thoughts on why marketers need to prioritise marketing marketing so they can do their jobs – unbridled.

I really feel for marketers.

I’ve never worked in a marketing department, nor been a CMO. I live the luxurious life of telling them what I think and leaving all the actual work to them.

But what I’ve observed is that marketing, especially in large organisations, appears to comprise of about 90 percent politics and 10 percent actually doing marketing.

I’m always amazed, when I’m inside an organisation, at the perplexing amount of time marketers spend on what is kindly referred to as ‘stakeholder management’ – the process of getting permission to do their job from an army of people who have zero experience in marketing and zero understanding of how brands or marketing or advertising work, but a fabulously ironic level of confidence that they’re a worthy judge of how marketers should be doing their jobs.

My suspicion is that no other discipline needs to spend as much of their time justifying the value of their work, or getting permission for how they intend to do it, as marketers do.

When I worked in advertising, I used to say that clients were like an opposing cricket team. They bowl you the ball and then try their best to prevent you from hitting it very far.

What I’ve learned after growing up a bit and being let into the inner sanctum of large organisations is that it’s ten times as bad for marketers. They don’t have one client to sell their plans in to. They have a queue of people lining up to assess their intentions, all of whom are given complete latitude to say no and appear to delight in doing so. If the marketer makes it through that ghastly gauntlet, they get to do their job. Which is barely ever.

I’m not sure how well CEOs understand that under these conditions, the efficiency and effectiveness of their marketing departments are constrained to a comical degree. There’s no point paying all of those experienced professionals to do their jobs barely any of the time. Clutching your pearls about the potential inefficiencies of working from home is ridiculous if you’re already presiding over a state that prevents your people from doing their jobs most of the time, even in the f*cking office. If I were king of the world I’d make some kind of bonkers rule that if you have no experience in a certain field, you shouldn’t be considered to be in a position to accurately assess the validity of the work of that field’s experts.

Anyway, I realised that when marketers are reviewing the work of their agencies, about 10 percent of their brain is focused on whether or not a campaign idea might be effective, or right for the brand, and about 90 percent of their brain is thinking about whether they can sell it internally to the cartel of vandals they’ll be driving back to after the meeting.

One CMO I recently spent time with was intent on running a programme of work to get the company’s staff understanding their brand strategy and behaving in a way that helped execute it. Nothing revolutionary, just what any sane person would see as a useful thing to be doing. Her head of HR, who she needed permission from, told her that she didn’t even see the point of the company having a brand strategy. So it was a great big f*cking no. WTAF.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a brilliant American CMO called Dara Treseder. She’s currently the CMO of Autodesk. Prior to that she held senior marketing roles at Apple, GE, Carbon and Peloton. At one point in the interview, while we were discussing the challenges of ‘stakeholder management’, she said “yeah, marketing has not done a great job of marketing marketing”. It’s a cute turn of phrase. It’s also very true. While we’ve done an often brilliant job of marketing products and brands, we haven’t excelled at helping non-marketers understand what we do, why we do it or what the principles are of doing it well.

Every now and then, someone does a survey of CEOs and what they think of marketing. They’re almost always at least slightly sensational. But one I found recently takes the cake. The report concluded that “many CEOs have marketing departments ‘purely out of tradition’ and have ‘made the conscious decision not to expect more from marketing than branding, feel good ads and promotions’.”

The distressing part of that conclusion is not that those CEOs had such a dismissive view of marketing. It’s that they were apparently unaware of the commercial value of building brands, making communications that improve consumers’ emotional connection with their company, or selling product.

When I started out in advertising, marketing was a bit of a dark art. We had lots of theories on how it all worked, and the most eloquent or persuasive or just plain loud about volunteering their theories were the ones that got them through. But thanks to the last 15 years, we have actual data evidence on how marketing and advertising really work.

We know the value of brand building to producing commercial outcomes. There is no end of work from the likes of the IPA, the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, Kantar, and myriad other organisations and researchers that shows, very clearly, the relationship between building strong brands and winning market share. The IPA in particular have shown the far, far higher ROI of producing creative, emotional advertising to a company’s bottom line. And how to balance that with short-term promotions that drive spikes in immediate sales.

It’s all publicly available, and I find that when we’re proactive about sharing it with non-marketing people, they get it. Turns out they’re not stupid or malicious or perversely political – they just haven’t been given the information and so make estimations based on their subjective experience of marketing and the snippets they’ve heard about it from colleagues or batty cranks on the internet.

I’ve shared the evidence of how marketing works, what its value is, and why we marketers push for the things we do with CEOs, CFOs, venture capitalists, tech founders, engineers, doctors and a tonne of others who were previously unappraised of it all and, unless they’re super stupid (and yes there are still some of them), they take it in, process it, and go ‘oh right, I understand that now’. And then they let me, or whatever marketer I’m helping, get on with the job.

It’s not hard, but we need to get way better at it. The next leaps forward that we make in marketing effectiveness won’t be in the discovery of new principles – it’ll be in the teaching of the principles that already exist to non-marketing stakeholders. If we do that job, we can expect a 10x improvement in the contribution marketing makes to business.

Avatar photo

About James Hurman

James Hurman is an advertising effectiveness expert who works with brands and marketers around the world to improve the commercial performance of their marketing communications.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *