Marketers need to prepare themselves for change- embrace it!

26 05 2009

I read about a survey from Pat LaPointe that indicated that 27% of marketers suck!!! Yep.  That is what was said when the question was posed: “how many of you believe marketers suck?”   When you read deeper, the survey was really anecdotal and asked of a few people.  Notwithstanding this pseudo-study, I was at a MENG meeting the other day and we asked similar questions.  What do the marketers have to do to prepare themselves for change today?  What training is needed to prepare them? What do the marketers need to do to make sure that the CEO values them?  And to me that is the overarching problem. 

As an engineer converted to marketing executive, I can appreciate the problem as I have faced it before.  In my previous posts, I tried to indicate what is wrong with marketing and a few prescriptions to change the attitude.  But even these prescriptions are no magic pills and will have to be accomplished over time and these prescriptions will be different for different companies and different CEOs.

I will address these three questions over a series of three consecutive blogs to make it easier to digest and not sound like a tutorial.  The first question:  What do the marketers have to do to prepare themselves for change?

There are two aspects the marketer must address.  One is to understand how customers are changing.    The other is to understand the new tools and techniques that are available that must be considered and integrated into the overall marketing plan.

The marketer has to be the linking pin from the outside world looking in and from the company view looking out.   The marketer must be facile in the “traditional” marketing and the new digital marketing world and apply them correctly.   To be prepared to understand the environment and the changes that take place – after all the tools have to be applied in context- the marketer must visit and be visible to the unique customer groups they deal with.  How do you do that with the reduction in marketing budgets?

Mystery shopping, customer advisory boards, distributor boards, customer satisfaction surveys are a few tools that can be used.  In this day of shrinking budgets, large scale market research studies which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars must be foregone and the marketing person has to be creative in determine how to get information on the behaviors and needs of his/her customer group.   When I was with US Cellular as its head marketing officer, I personally visited stores and distribution and acted as a shopper to understand the experience any buyer would have.   I talked with sales people and talked with customers.   It did not take long to get a feel for what we did right, what affected the brand, and what we needed to do to improve.  More so, I really ENJOYED being in the field and talking with customers.  Imagine this NY guy in Iowa talking to farmers wearing Cartharts and driving tractors!!! Maybe they liked my NY accent or maybe they just liked the fact that I was interested in hearing what they said, because I always was invited to ride in their combines and tractors and always invited back.  Those were fond experiences.

Additionally, most customers think linearly, i.e. when asked what they want, the customer normally answers with adjectives such as better, cheaper, faster.    Therefore, the marketer must reach out to “lead users” as Eric Von Hippel from MIT would call them.  These customers invented solutions to their problems.  Getting in front of them and talking with them and watching what they do were critical to understand them- and learn what we need to do to be innovative.   Just consider one panel of lead users and one panel of traditional users and you can get lots of interesting data.  And if they don’t want to talk in front of others, call them and engage them one on one.

Marketing can be very tactical i.e. implement and advertising campaign or direct mail campaign, or strategic, i.e. how to maintain competitive advantage, how to use new innovations and which ones in the marketing programs.   Part of the strategic thinking a marketing executive has to bring to the company revolves around using new tools and techniques.  Does the company want to be on the leading edge of internet marketing for example or be a fast follower?  Should the company twitter or develop a group on facebook or LinkedIn?    Yet even before those decisions are made, the marketer needs to take a view of how he/she will go to market in the future.   To gain perspective on that, I suggest the marketer consider the following ways to glean that knowledge:

  • Read Faith Popcorn’s books and articles concerning the future
  • Sit down with you sons and daughters and watch some of their shows as they will adopt new technology and display behaviors prior to the general population.   (I have to confess, I used my 9 year old daughter and her friends to critique a new line of cellular accessories we were considering rolling out in our stores…. and I let them keep the accessories as a gift.  )
  • Scour the internet for new ideas, innovations, and technologies.  Have discussions among internal groups and involve engineers to discuss how some of these new technologies can be applied to business (and the engineers will bond with the marketing folks as a by-product).
  • Read Investor Business Daily, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers and see what is hot in new technology.
  • Attend local tech seminars and conferences and learn about new ideas.
  • Attend the myriads of free webinars usually put on by early stage firms wanting to get a toe hold and their new technology in the market.  I do this all the time to learn about new techniques in internet marketing, SEO, and the use of tools such as twitter.
  • Look offshore in China, Singapore, Japan, and Europe to determine how leading companies there are using new marketing methods.   Determine the leading companies and study their marketing practices.
  • Subscribe to a best practice program such as the Marketing Leadership Council or Marketing Leadership Roundtable.
  • Join an angel investor group – like the one I joined: TechCoastAngels of Orange County- or affiliate with one so you can learn about new ideas.  It’s not only the ideas or deals that are brought to the table but the discussions with the entrepreneurs around the table that are valuable.

I would be interested in feedback and other ideas which I will aggregate and post in a future blog.

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2 responses

12 06 2009
Dana Theus

I had to laugh when I read this: “The marketer has to be the linking pin from the outside world looking in and from the company view looking out.” I laughed because I used practically these very words when briefing a candidate for a new Sr VP Marketing position at a media company (who had practically never heard of social media). My point to her is that the marketer of the future has to turn around and face the company for a change from the perspective of the customer, to represent the customer base to the company because they can shut out the customer but – if you’re good and credible – they shouldn’t shut you out cuz you’re on their side! I know full well how sometimes it’s easy to be discredited if you’re on the inside and a well placed customer comment or consultant can be more credible, but I do think that moving forward the marketer has to be the customer/prospect conscience w/in the company.

I would add one strategy to your answer about doing more effective marketing on a reduced budget and that is that “traditional marketing plans” treat marketing budget as ad dollars (and tradeshows etc) and sales people as the sales force. In reality, all your employees, and some of your customers, can augment the sales and marketing budget. There’s no one-size-fits all strategy for this by any means given the variety of markets, products and employees involved, but if we think of the sales force as expanded to the size of our company, some of the dynamics of the marketing plan can change.

Good stuff.

12 06 2009
David Friedman

Dana

Good points, all. I am not a fan of exclusion. The really good CMO adapts the tactical plan to the demographics and the context.

david

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