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8 reasons why marketing is misunderstood (and how to make sure it creates value)

25-May-2017
25-May-2017 17:54
in Marketing
by Rachael Wheatley

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“62% of marketers believe marketing is only somewhat understood or not understood at all by their business as a whole.

Not so long ago I read an article in Marketing Week* following on from some research they had done, from which the above quote comes.

This stark statistic jumped out at me.

As many as 62%? Really? After decades of marketers working within companies?

Delving into the detail, this seems to be true across sectors. The range was from 65% (answered somewhat or not at all understood) to 40%. So even for those companies which were the most positive about marketing only 60% of marketers there said marketing was understood.

My heart sank when I read this. So what are we doing wrong?

I believe there are eight things potentially going on here, which, if addressed, can help marketing show and add value to the business:

1. Not working closely enough with people in other teams or business units

When I worked in-house leading marketing teams, I often spoke or worked with finance, HR or the sales team/business developers. I was in and out of the business unit directors’ offices – asking them about their business, what was going on. If as marketers we believe it’s a capability crucial to the whole organisation, then we might need to:

  • ask finance for help in reporting and finding out from them key financial or management information to inform our marketing strategy
  • work with HR on job descriptions and recruiting the right people if marketing or BD skills are critical to certain roles outside marketing
  • meet prospects or customer with the sales/BD people and fully understand their point of view
  • share with sales or business unit directors what we’re doing and how that will help them deliver on their plans
  • find out from them what marketing needs to do to support them

In professional services, marketers will need to work closely with fee-earners – it works best if there is a close collaboration between the two and makes best use of resources.

Being involved in joint projects is a good way of getting to know other people in the organisation and enables everyone to see things from a different point of view. For instance, getting staff input on a re-brand or running a cross-departmental project to improve client care or develop a new product is a powerful way of demonstrating the impact and reach marketing has.

2. Not working as an internal consultant

This point is linked to the one above, but I thought it worth exploring separately. How you work with your ‘internal clients’ is as important as that you do so. Treating other people in the business as your clients and taking a consultative, collaborative approach is the key to building relationships and credibility, which is in turn essential to getting buy-in. 

In the same way as people in your business are building relationships with clients and prospects and taking them on a journey to show the value of what your company offers, that’s how marketers need to work with their internal clients and prospects.

Related post: Becoming the trusted internal adviser

3. Not explaining the connection between the business objectives and plan and how marketing can help

We are sometimes our own worst enemy.  We react to a request for “marketing” (organise an event, run an advert, organise some PR) because that’s what we’ve been asked to do and what the “client” wants, then complain because we don’t have enough time to be strategic or that marketing is misunderstood as being purely tactical.

My response is to ask: what role do you want to play? The team might play one or more roles – advisory, change-maker, regulator, doer (or all of these at different times). And let people know what role you want and need to inhabit to make a difference in the business.

4. Not always connecting marketing with sales

Everyone gets sales. Since there’s a direct link between activity and revenue, it’s easy to understand. But sales people need marketing to support them and vice versa.

I never could understand the divide between the two. To me, they are two sides of the same coin and we both have the same objectives in mind. If we don’t already understand our separate worlds and perspectives, then we need to spend time with each other.

5. Not explaining the benefits of marketing (and the risks of not doing it)

This is so much easier to do if you have a marketing plan that stems from a marketing strategy that itself has led from a business plan. If the core purpose of marketing is to put in place a series of stepping stones to motivate customers to buy from you and remain loyal, it’s hard to see how a business plan can be achieved without marketing.

And then there’s the risks of not investing in marketing – e.g. not researching the market landscape for a proposed new product, not identifying then proactively managing and protecting your key clients, not pinpointing who your ideal clients are which will focus your marketing and sales efforts on the right work.

An example of this risk: in one company I worked for, I identified the need for, then helped them implement, a key account strategy. By doing this, we saved one customer leaving who was on the point of doing so and increased revenue for their top client by 300% over 5 years. 

6. Not acting as the voice of the customer

It’s odd that marketing is often removed from direct contact with customers, and yet in large part they need to be the voice of the customer.

You might say this is a sales responsibility, and they often have an account management role. But issues arising from proactive account management can be marketing-related. For instance, they have no idea what other services you have that might be valuable to them because you haven’t told them or they have a niggling complaint about customer service which you haven’t teased out of them, never mind addressed.

Our job in marketing is to be the voice of the customer whether they’re a client or a prospect. What do they want, what do they value, what are they willing to pay, what are the changes happening now or on the horizon that our business needs to be aware of and respond to, what are they happy or unhappy with. Answering these questions all fall within the remit of marketing.

7. Not measuring what we do

Thankfully some areas of marketing have become easier to measure – namely those that are digital. But there are still areas which are harder to quantify.  And it depends what you’re measuring and at what stage. I’ve written more on how you know whether you’re marketing is successful in a guest blog for Watertight Marketing

Where the customer goes through several stages to purchase, and over a period of time, it’s harder to directly link that bit of marketing to that bit of revenue. It’s more complicated than that. For instance, the customer’s journey might be over months or even years and others are usually involved (sales, customer services, recommendations from others, etc). Yet another reason why sales and marketing needs to work collaboratively to make the most of what each does.

8. Not giving all marketing team members access to the wider business

According to the Marketing Week research, it’s more likely that senior marketers believe marketing is understood by the wider business than junior marketers.

So, including the whole marketing team – from most junior to manager – in changes to how you work and your role as a function, is crucial. It means that in time more junior members will also believe that marketing is well-understood because they’ve been part of the solution.

Collaboration + connection 

There are two clear themes that emerge from these eight reasons as to why marketing is misunderstood: collaboration and connection. The more isolated a marketing team is, the less value it creates. The more we work in a silo as a reactive ‘doing’ team, the less value we add and the more the business will see us as a cost and not an essential part of the whole.

The most important change to make then is this: how can you answer each of these reasons and ensure they become a thing of the past?

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* Marketing Week, 19 January 2017 - Salary Survey: Marketing is still misunderstood by businesses