Why leading marketing is hard

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: July 03, 2015

Normally, I write about how to succeed as a customer leader. But often, after a talk or a workshop, someone comes to me and says: “Come on, you must admit that leading marketing is hard” (from my cmo.com column).

Okay, let’s–for once–do some moaning. It’s true: marketers are facing three gaps: trust, power and skills. Leadership is the way through all of them.

Let’s look at three gaps Patrick Barwise and I have found in our large global leadership research (please forgive me for adding some constructive ideas):

1. The Trust Gap (The Organisation Doesn’t Really Believe You)

‘Trusted adviser’ is a common term in most languages. ‘Trusted marketer’ isn’t. But why are marketers less trusted? Because they are in the revenue generation business. Marketers are all about what ‘could be’ (e.g. future revenue)–and that comes with problems.

To start with, it’s hard to predict customer behaviour. Usually, customers simply want ‘better’ products, but sometimes they fall for big ideas ‘beyond the familiar,’ such as Apple’s iPhone, as my friend Patrick Barwise has shown in his inspiring books. The bigger and more unfamiliar the idea, the harder it is to predict demand. And today, what customers want and how to reach them is changing faster than ever. We can run tests and do the numbers–but we can never guarantee success. In fact, nobody can guarantee success, but marketers feel the heat.

To make things worse, it’s also hard to prove the return on your past marketing investments. For most digital or direct marketing campaigns, we can get a good read of the short-term return. But on long-term brand investments, it will always be a mix of art and science to figure out real returns. That’s why, when talking about past cash flow, the CFO will always look smarter than you.

The perhaps biggest trust killer is less obvious–and yet everywhere: GMOOT (Get Me One Of Those). It seems everyone–from the chairman’s spouse to the junior IT recruit–has views on how marketing should be done, often involving the latest fads and fashions. Suggestions are great, but you can’t possibly prove or disprove all ideas that hit you each day. And even if you can proof that a ‘GMOOT’ is nonsense (you’ll put it more nicely, of course), some people will still trust their own intuition more than your facts.

Trust in marketers doesn’t come easy. You’ll have to earn trust again each and every day–and that takes leadership. Getting a proper return measurement going is a must–no debate. But be honest as well. Even the toughest CFO will understand; you can’t measure and predict everything. Put your cards on the table. To build trust, measure what you can, create scenarios–but never claim you can predict the future. Because you can’t.

2. The Power Gap (You Don’t Have All The Say)

The marketing manager must have the attitude of a purchasing agent, an investor and a horse-trader all at the same time, if he is ever to achieve the overall control that marketing operations so urgently need” wrote Reavis Cox in 1956. For decades, marketers have complained about their lack of control–and it’s getting worse. In a perfect world, the performance of marketers would be judged by their contribution to the company’s revenue and profit growth. But many marketers don’t fully control the main revenue and profit drivers, including product, pricing, and availability. Especially in service businesses, sales and operations overwhelmingly determine the customer experience. And in the digital age, where customer data insights are fast becoming a popular currency, IT is getting more involved as well. None of these typically report to the CMO.

Let’s face it; marketers aren’t in charge. In fact, nobody’s in charge. “How can I have more say?” is the wrong question for the digital age. As a marketer, don’t worry about how much ‘say’ you have. Instead, find ways to become the customer thought-leader in your company, make the case with data, inspire colleagues with a customer story that gets under their skin, and walk the hallways to get things moving. Some people call this marketing. I call it leadership.

3. The Skills Gap (You’ll Never Know Enough)

Digital is creating a massive marketing skills gap. While TV, radio, print, etc. still matter, there is an ever-growing list of new marketing tools (mobile, social, big data, etc.). Some studies estimate that US marketing teams alone will be short of 190,000 people with data skills by 2018. Many CEOs expect their top marketers to lead the digital transformation, but most marketers feel overwhelmed by digital technologies. There are now more books, articles, conferences, seminars, and blogs on functional marketing knowledge than ever before. Getting up to speed takes significant energy away from many marketers’ main task: driving innovation and profitable revenue growth.

In the past, your question was: “How can I learn it all?” But now is not the past. Now is now. Your current leadership question has to be: “How can we make the biggest difference for our customers–and who can I bring in to do it best?”

Leading marketing was always hard. It’s not getting easier. A little moaning is okay at times. But leadership will help you deal with all three crises. The reward? You get to do the coolest job in the company: marketing!

How do you bridge the three internal gap of marketers?