The Marketing Evangelist

Talk up your title! That’s the word from Marking Association CEO John Miles, who says marketing sometimes doesn’t get its dues – and that may be the fault of the marketers themselves.

People often ask me what I do (especially friends who work outside the industry), and the description that seems to resonate the best, particularly with students, is that I’m a marketing evangelist – I spread the good word of marketing.

My experience is that marketing doesn’t get the recognition it should in business and is often considered not to offer the value other occupations do. I’d even go as far as to say that marketing is one of the most undervalued professions in business today. This was explicitly highlighted in a Forbes article that reported on a survey of 65,000 board members over six years that found that only 2.6 percent of them had managerial- level marketing experience. Why? An eminent Oxford Associate Fellow, Dr John Hoffmire, surmised that “the answer is simple – marketers aren’t needed because they often don’t contribute the same types of value that others from finance, strategy and operations contribute”. 

In a separate study of board members, only 4 percent believed that marketing is an important discipline or experience to have (versus 47 percent who believe finance is). What a load of piffle! The article also found:

  • Boards with members who had marketing experiance tended to have better total shareholder return (a three percentage point increase)
  • The results were even stronger when the firm was in the midst of a market-share decline

Perhaps we’re our own worst enemies. It has to be said that we’re not the best at portraying what we really do and expertly managing our internal stakeholders. Forbes’ Kimberly Whitler stated, “Our job is to educate business leaders as to the real role and responsibility of a trained marketer, a strategist of the highest order who has the greatest understanding of the needs of the customer and how to translate this insight into growth.”

This is our challenge. Too often when other people think of marketing, they jump to the fourth P – promotion – before having understood the customer or gained insight. So they develop a strategy to deliver a product or service that people might want to buy. A classic example is the Government’s Digital Boost programme, which is designed to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) learn the skills to launch their business into the digital world. It’s a fantastic initiative, but who’s helping these SMEs to get their thinking right? If they have the wrong product at the wrong price and in the wrong place, it doesn’t matter how they sell or distribute it. If it’s a dog of a product, it just becomes a digital dog of a product.

It’s up to us as marketers to lift the perception of what marketers do and the value we add. Doug Kessler of the UK’s Velocity Partners says, “Simply by virtue of their senior position in your company, these stakeholders (senior executives who often rose to their positions without thinking much about marketing and have now found themselves in a position to judge it) will second-guess your judgement, undermine your decisions and kill your
best ideas – often without even thinking that much about it. And you know whose fault it is? Yours!”

Kessler says the most important job you have is to get in sync with your stakeholders, and that it may be the most important job you ever do. If you fail, he suggests that you’ve resigned yourself to:

  • Rejection after rejection
  • Seeing great work eroded into ho-hum
  • Watching original ideas turn into mediocrity
  • Or worse – seeing yourself give up and stop looking for outstanding ideas

So what are the solutions? As an industry, we now have professional certifications like other sectors, accountants, quantity surveyors and the like, and this will help raise the perception that we’re an exceptionally skilled profession with professional standards. But as Kessler says, we need to expertly manage our stakeholders. One suggestion he makes is to become your company’s customer advocate, as the customer outranks the senior executives. “If everything you do is done in the service of your customers and prospects, you’ve seized the highest ground in any internal debate.” 

I was lucky enough to visit the UC Berkeley innovation centre in San Francisco a few years ago, and one key takeaway I had was that ideas will remain ideas forever unless you have a team and stakeholders behind you.

We must all become the number-one customer advocate and be the marketing evangelists within our organisation. 

This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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