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.