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Four Ways Marketers Can Stop Damaging Their Profession

By Augie Ray | September 15, 2016 | 12 Comments

Marketing has a marketing problem.

In 2012, an Adobe study found that advertising/marketing was one of the least valuable professions to society–just 13% of survey respondents ranked it as valuable. In 2015, a 4As study found that only 4% of Americans think the marketing industry behaves with integrity, ranking it below Congress and cable news. This trend is not recent; in the four decades Gallup has surveyed Americans about the honesty and ethical standards of different professions, no more than 14% have ever ranked Advertising Practitioners very high or high. Currently, Advertising Practitioners share the bottom of the list with car salespeople, telemarketers, and lobbyists.

And if consumers don’t trust us, they certainly cannot trust our work. A recent study from Experticity found what every other study has about consumer trust in advertising and marketing communications: Less than half of consumers—47 percent—trust or believe advertising, and the same is true (49%) with social media campaigns. By now we’ve seen so many of these studies that it hardly needs to be pointed out that family and friends, along with online reviews, earn 50% more trust than the output created by marketers.

And if you think the issue is only with consumers, guess again. A 2012 Fournaise study of CEOs found that “80% of CEOs admit they do not really trust and are not very impressed by the work done by Marketers — while in comparison, 90% of the same CEOs do trust and value the opinion and work of CFOs and CIOs.”

If only there were a profession to which marketers could turn to influence public perception and impact consideration of the profession! I’m not sure what it says when the discipline responsible for promoting and selling cannot promote or sell itself, but whatever it is, it isn’t very complimentary.

What can the marketing industry do to begin to have a positive impact on its reputation and trust? I suggest four courses of action:

Action #1: Champion the difficult

Would you trust a surgeon with a website about “simple surgery hacks”? Would you hire an accountant who published “Ten easy accounting tricks to improve your bottom line?”

Marketing has become obsessed with the “easy.” Bloggers routinely promote hacks, tricks and easy ways to improve marketing, and they do this because too many marketers flock to easy answers. For example, marketers embraced social media in the most simplistic of ways, launching blogs no customer wanted and sweepstakes that accumulated meaningless fans; few brands did the hard work of considering how social media works, what consumers care about or how to foster differentiated relationships in social networks.

Social media is just one example; from build-it-and-they-will come websites in the early digital days to dull Second Life islands to mobile apps no one opened more than three times, marketers have repeated the mistake of equating consumer adoption of a channel with interest to engage with brands in that channel. Because of this fire-aim-ready approach, marketers were left wondering what to do with underperforming websites, unengaged Facebook fan bases, forsaken Second Life islands and mobile apps with few active users. Many marketers will repeat the same mistakes in the future, discovering too late that success in virtual reality or messaging bots will take more than hastily developed programs that fail to account for customer needs, expectations, goals, and preferences.

Marketing is difficult–really difficult. There are best practices, but those are table stakes, and there are no secret “hacks” that will turn your brand into the next Disney or Apple because you installed a WordPress plugin or posted on Facebook at a specified time. As a profession, we must champion how brands succeed and consumers benefit when we do the hard work of knowing the customer and acting on that knowledge.

Action #2: Stop celebrating the meaningless

Got a lot of views on a YouTube video and a ton of likes on your tweet? Did you alert the CFO to be prepared to account for all that success on the company’s balance sheet? One important way for marketers to earn trust inside and outside their organization is to consider what metrics matter and stop celebrating the meaningless. There is a place for tactical marketing measures such as video views and likes, and it is inside the marketing organization rather than in reports to senior leaders or, heaven forbid, press releases.

For example, monitoring online video views can help you evaluate consumer interest in topics, distribution methods and naming conventions, but launching a video that collects a lot of views is not, by itself, praiseworthy. The number of video views is a means to an end, not a measure of success, so stop firing up the PR machine and breaking out the confetti every time something goes viral. Celebrating a huge number of views or likes without measuring how (or if) they delivered financial, brand or business success undermines the importance of our roles and objectives.

The measurement answers are not simple (See Action #1), but marketers must avoid the McNamara fallacy.  They must stop overvaluing what is easy to measure and recognize that what’s hard to measure is frequently more powerful. Much of what is simple to measure is tactical, such as views and likes. Other easy measures are important but not predictive of future success, such as clicks and conversions. And the most powerful predictors of future brand success can be difficult or expensive to collect, including measures of satisfaction, loyalty, and brand advocacy.

Wouldn’t it be great if we rejoiced when a brand lifts its Net Promoter Score 500 basis points rather than when a video grabs a million views? Shouldn’t we celebrate when we produce loyal customers eager to advocate for our brands, not when people watch three seconds of our three-minute video in their newsfeed? And maybe the time has come to stop flying agency and marketing staff to the French Riviera to applaud the art in their work and instead break out the champagne when our hard work delivers value for customers, earns money for shareholders and protects and creates jobs for employees.

Action #3: Embrace your inner geek

I hate Mad Men. The popular series only reinforced the idea that marketing is about half-drunk stylishly-dressed people spitballing creative ways to manipulate consumers when not otherwise cheating on their spouses in fabulous midcentury modern decors. Screw Mad Men–I want a real show about marketing where people try to analyze large sets of data in loud, distracting open-office floorplans with buggy wifi and phones buzzing with client requests to move the logo six pixels to the right.

Creativity has a place in marketing (as it does in other professions), but marketing is fundamentally not a creative discipline. More and more, the secret to success is in how marketers collect, analyze and use data. Data tells us where to open new markets, what content and ads work, which customer segments are most valuable, what our customers value, whether our websites and apps work as intended and how our brand is meeting (or not) customer expectations. Creative success without data is luck; data without creativity may restrict success, but it still gets the right things done for the right reasons.

If we want to change trust in marketing, we need to modify the stereotype (and the reality) that defines the modern marketer. For decades, the typecast marketer was the black-clad pretentious creative who waxed poetic about how a logo design is a visual metaphor that juxtaposes the duality of human experience in a way that dimensionalizes blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Instead, the successful marketer of the future will be a geek who knows how to collect, manage and analyze data, telling others what matters to the customer and what the brand should do, as a result.

Action #4: Adopt customer experience

Marketing used to have four Ps: Place, price, product and promotion. Marketing was responsible for knowing the customer and ensuring the company delivered what he or she wanted or needed. Marketing’s role was so expansive that in 1955 Peter Drucker famously said:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Somehow, marketing lost its way. It got preoccupied with acquisition, focusing on what happens before the brand captured a customer but ignoring what happened after. It got obsessed with advertising, concentrating more on messaging than on whether the product or service satisfied needs. It got possessed by creativity, worrying about taglines and copy rather than capturing and analyzing data on customer sentiment, loyalty, and advocacy. Marketing has focused so much on impressions, clicks, and conversions that we have forgotten what marketing is all about: The customer.

Customer experience management is a way for marketing to regain its focus. Trust in our profession will improve when people recognize that marketers do not only deliver campaigns, leads and conversions but strong brands and great experiences that create happy, loyal customers willing to tell others.

Our profession will not raise trust and respect by finding new methods to defeat ad blockers, creative ways to trick people into thinking promotional content is objective news or new ad types that move and obscure the content people want to read. We will raise trust when people realize marketing is about knowing the customer better and delivering the sorts of personalized and valuable experiences, products, and services people crave. Set aside easy answers, ignore the awards and viral nonsense, commit to meaningful objectives, master data to know the customer and champion better customer experience, and you may not singlehandedly change the course of our profession, but you certainly will do wonders for your brand and your career.

Leave a Comment

12 Comments

  • John Conley says:

    Great read. Reinforces the point that marketing must flip from selling (& shouting) to enabling (& accelerating) the customer journey and earning (& honoring) trust. Harder work, bigger rewards.

  • Typo: Fournaise, not Fornaise

  • I think a large part of the problem is the complexity in measuring the right things, particularly in B2B, where the link between marketing activity and closed sale is difficult to make – requiring a well established funnel model (one that has clear definitions of contact/prospect/lead/opportunity) and integrated systems so that the journey can be tracked backwards from sale to campaign and enable data-driven marketing strategies.

    It’s much easier to report on the numbers that individual tools make available at a single click – and then thread them together in reports with a sort of theroetical glue – than to get the whole marketing and sales organization on the same model, supported by end-to-end integration of the marketing technology stack. Until this happens, expecting trust from the CEO is a bit naive. It’s all a bit like the “emperor’s new clothes”.

    Marketers tend to gripe about sales teams being the CEO’s favourite, but it makes sense as they can actually report on revenue versus costs. Yes, it’s easier for them (as they’re much closer to the sale), but that’s just tough. Marketers need to work with the sales guys to connect systems and work out how to build a lead-attribution model that assigns real commercial value back to the marketing activities where they originated. This should be the founding principle that forms the corner stone of sales/marketing alignment. Without it, the whole thing is ethereal.

    • Augie Ray says:

      Thanks for the comment, Martin. I don’t disagree with the importance of marketing understanding its direct impact to sales, but if that is ALL marketing does, it will do damage to the brand. As I mentioned in my post, the McNamara fallacy suggests that humans gravitate to easy metrics, and that once they do, they immediately discount the difficult metrics as being wrong or useless. My point here is that short-term sales are certainly important, but Kodak had great short-term sales. So did Borders. MySpace looked unstoppable (until they were stopped.) And Wells Fargo’s short-term sales looked great–until the scandal broke, its reputation was damaged and it’s stock went down almost 10% in three weeks.

      If everyone in the organization gravitates to measuring their benefit only in short-term sales and no one focuses on leading metrics like satisfaction, loyalty and brand advocacy, the brand will eventually fail. Marketing won’t win, I would suggest, by playing the same game as Sales but playing their own game.

  • I do not agree with Item # 2, in the world of digital marketing and in the 21st Century of social media outreach, where news travel faster than TV newscast or CNN, customers (B2B) and consumers (B2C) already embraced this norm. Like it or not, its here to stay and to be reckoned with, what and how a marketer deal with it is the question. A great marketer of this century knows how to play and leverage social media results. I’ve seen many of them who successfully able to make a play, achieved revenue growth, customer loyalty and satisfaction, strengthen its company offering and business valuation, including being acquired at a huge price. It can really be a win-win, again if the marketer is highly skilled marketing leader, not a follower!

    • Augie Ray says:

      Thanks, Virginia. You don’t have to sell me on the power of social media–I’ve covered it as an analyst and ran social media for two Fortune 500 firms. With that in mind, I’d point out that I did not say social media doesn’t matter but that celebrating reach without understanding further impact is vital. If an ad agency produced an ad that got a lot of views but drove no clicks or conversions, would you find that troubling? If an experiential agency hung a banner outside a store saying “Meet Johnny Depp” and created a flood of customers through the front door who were only disappointed to learn the actor wasn’t there, would that be a success?

      What I am saying is that any brand can create likes and clicks–pictures of puppies, meaningful quotes and pretty pictures will accumulate engagement. But engagement isn’t the goal–it is an ends to a mean. If marketers create engagement WITHOUT changing the way people think about the brand or driving any changes in purchase behavior, that is simple wasted effort. Several years ago, KMart had the most viral social media hit of the year with “Ship My Pants.” Millions saw it, yet the brand did not see a change in foot traffic to stores, sales or consideration. They entertained–they did NOT change brand perception or purchase behavior.

      Of course, a brand that builds viral success AND delivers brand results is to be celebrated, but they are to be celebrated for the latter, not the former. My point is not that social media doesn’t matter or that viral hits are all a waste; it’s that if that is all we celebrate, we are selling ourselves short.

  • Scott Lum says:

    Brilliant read. This should be the foundation for the modern marketer’s manifesto. The one area I would challenge is embracing the inner geek. We need both marketers that can creatively embrace customer engagement and others that are great at analytics. These are completely different superpowers. I’m a right brain touchy feely marketer who loves to find ways to engage and delight customers and don’t have any interest in becoming a data and analytics expert. However, I surround myself with people who do have those skills and use their insights to improve my efforts. It can be a beautiful thing when a team with both skills come together for the good of the business and customer.

    • Augie Ray says:

      I appreciate this comment, Scott. You are correct, we need both left- and right-brain for marketing. If I have a bias, it’s only because marketers too often make the mistake of thinking theirs is a creative discipline, not a logical, data-driven one. If more marketers brought the balance you suggest, I wouldn’t need to hit the “Embrace the geek” drum as loud as I do.

      Still, at the end of the day, while creativity matters, the occupation of marketing would be better served if we stopped giving creative awards to each other, as if we were in the entertainment industry, and got serious about celebrating only the marketing that drives short- and long-term brand value. Being creative without results is nothing to celebrate, in my book. My dad was a marketer, and he used to say that if you want to create art, then go find a gallery to show off your work, but marketing is in the business business.

  • Marcelo Man says:

    Great, provoking read! I fully agree, and I would add: Marketing has a terrific self-confidence issue.
    I’m convinced that, as in all sort of problems, the first step to overcome these is to admit and visualize the issues themselves. The lack of trust, the acceptance to stay as a cost center, the continued need to justify its spending, its actions, and in some cases, even its existence as a separate organization in some companies, all this is a consequence of Marketing’s own lack of direction and conscience of its critical role in all modern companies (imagine a company without a real “brand” or any positioning, without advertising or promotion, without any web or media presence, without someone taking care of things such as collaterals, content, events, customer experience, programs & campaigns, sponsorships, etc., etc.)

    • Augie Ray says:

      Funny, in some ways many in Marketing seem remarkably over-confident, but as you point out, in other areas they need to be more so. I always believe that in business, to spark change you have to spark the way success is measured for teams and people. If the CMO can begin to cultivate more long-term metrics, not simply be tied to the short-term metrics of conversions and sales, the marketing department can begin to solve the issues we’re discussing.

      • Marcelo Man says:

        Yes, maybe I wasn’t very clear on that point.

        That sense of “low self-confidence” is of course unconscious and unnoticed for most of us. Commercial roles (Sales, Marketing…) are all about strong personalities with high levels self-confidence and initiative. But there is something “behind the scenes” of Marketing, that leads to the marketer’s roles coming back once and again into being “forced” to justify their existence, their value, their contribution, while, if you really think about ALL the areas of responsibility of marketing (many became imperceptible, that can be another cause), companies can’t compete in the market without marketing efforts and marketing professionals coordinating these. Period. No discussion. But there is still a reason why these discussions happen, and it might be related with what you mention in your blog, or what I comment here.