Who trusts a marketer?

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: November 05, 2018

To fix marketing’s perception problem, marketers must overcome the fear of forecast, measure what matters, and make selling a purpose again.

A couple of days ago, a friend complained over dinner: “Our profession’s reputation is in tatters. People once respected my job and our industry. And today? Nobody trusts us anymore.” Needless to say: He works in a bank.

I found some nice words for him. But deep in my mind I thought: be glad you aren’t a marketer. Depending upon which study you pick, between 50% and 80% of CEOs don’t trust marketing (some of these studies were done by marketers, so maybe we can’t trust these numbers either). I don’t know about you, but I find these figures apocalyptic.

And here’s the paradox: while CEOs are skeptical about marketing, firms flourish and grow because the marketers at Adidas, Diageo, Unilever, etc. keep the factories humming with their successful work.

Beware of the naysayers. Marketing is, next to innovation, a firm’s most important function. The marketing product is good; the perception sucks. But why?

Well, the complaint letter lands right in marketers’ inbox. No marketing expert would challenge a customer’s perception of a brand. Rather, they’d accept it and do better marketing. The same principle applies when the ‘customer’ is the CEO: if the brand perception of marketing isn’t right, it’s for the marketer to fix, not the CEO.

Since marketing’s brand trouble is such a hot issue, Marketing Week asked me to give a keynote at this year’s Festival of Marketing (FoM). Here’s (roughly) what I said.

To fix marketing’s perception problem, we must overcome three issues: forecast phobia, noise obsession, and purpose confusion. If these titles confuse you, you aren’t any better off than my FoM audience – but hear me out.


Just when you think everything already exists, someone invents the cat turntable. Seriously: you can buy this. Its packaging features a cat-turned-DJ behind a music deck. And on Amazon, this thing sells like hot cakes .

And if you already own one, you’ll be delighted to hear there’s also the cat laptop. A MacBook turned CatBook with a plush toy mouse. Finally your tiger can watch cat videos on her own device. Honestly, who would have known there are people out there who like cat turntables, buy cat laptops and make their creators rich?

Here’s the thing: Marketing is all about future success. Future revenue, future profit. And that future is hard to forecast. So many marketers avoid forecasting, because they could be wrong – and look stupid.

But “hard to forecast” is no excuse. It’s also hard to forecast the weather. Yet someone each day takes the effort, runs the models, crunches some numbers, and puts out a forecast to show us how much rain we are going to have tomorrow. We need the same effort in marketing.


On the Festival of Marketing stage, I pulled three orange balls out of my bag – my giveaway for the audience. Three people were quick enough to catch one when I threw them into the crowd. Then I asked the three winners if they liked their new balls. Three hands went up. Next, I asked who preferred to keep their orange ball. Two hands went up. And finally, I wanted to know who would now go out and buy a ball. No hands whatsoever.

Getting a click, a blink, a catch is easy, but it’s worthless if it doesn’t lead to demand. Likes are nice, but worthless if they don’t lead to demand. Preference is nice, but worthless if it doesn’t lead to demand. If you are the maker of the orange balls, what you care about is demand.

Unfortunately, too much of today’s marketing is about noise. Expert Scott Brinker has now counted over 6,000 digital marketing solutions. Never before have we had more powerful tools to understand customers, serve them better, and create real demand. And yet we are using these tools to more frequently, more precisely, more aggressively spam people with advertising they haven’t asked to see.

And then we look at views, clicks, likes; the stuff only one person cares about: the marketer. It’s good to have these noise numbers from the front end of funnel. But what really matters the is demand. Too often, we measure the wrong thing.


Here’s a stunning fact about Irish cows: about 5% of all Irish cow milk goes into making a drink you all know: Baileys. The stat was5%, I should say, because not long ago, Mark Sandys and the smart marketers at Diageo worked their magic and repositioned the Baileys brand by telling customers they could drink Baileys on many more occasions (with your coffee, for example).

As a result of that great marketing, Baileys last year shipped almost 10% more bottles. And because more Baileys was sold, there’s now more work for Irish farmers, the Baileys factories, and, of course, the cows. Sustainable sales growth can be a pretty good purpose.

Try This >> to fix your accountability issues:

  • KNOW YOUR NUMBER. Every marketer in this world needs to know how much revenue they are helping to create. Not clicks, not likes – true demand. Like the weather, you won’t know exactly. But you gotta have a forecast. You gotta have a number.
  • GET INTO THE REVENUE CAMP. Show your number. Talk about your number. If people in your firm believe your work is pure cost, they’ll ask you to do less of it. If people believe your work leads to revenue, they’ll want you to do more of it.
  • CONSIDER SELLING AS A PURPOSE. Imagine you help your company sell more contracts, ship more boxes, move more bottles. In that case, chances are more people get jobs, more innovation gets funding, and the cows may get more work, too. Purpose can be that simple.

(From my Marketing Week column).