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Does marketing have a marketing problem?

By Matt Warder

“Marketing strategy, currently driven by acquiring customers, managing costs and driving revenue should be driven by a clear vision of how to create customer preference.”

Recently, over dinner at the Marketing Society, we joined a host of experienced marketers, hotly debating whether “Marketing has a marketing problem.” Here is our perspective on the conversation.

B2B marketing has typically been characterised by long lead times and deals based on the deep personal connection between individuals and their clients. These personal connections, while invaluable in growing a business, remain tricky to scale, yet still raise a question about the value of marketing – if we can drive successful results in person, why invest in marketing?

The business decision-makers we are influencing face tough challenges. Their choices have a meaningful impact on the success of business, their personal credibility, bonus and perhaps jobs. These decisions are steeped in emotional impact.

Influencing individual decisions is important. So too is the role of marketing in building a healthy brand. Without which, we run the risk of delivering a series of tactical lead generation activities while our competitors build preference and value.

One solution to mitigating the risk is to develop a clear vision of ‘what marketing means’ for the organisation. This vision – requiring board-level sponsorship – should underpin all future decisions and company behaviours. Benefits include a reduction in the considerable amount of time often spent educating colleagues on marketing’s role as ‘brand teachers’ and an improved understanding of the impact of marketing across the whole organisation.

Another approach involves interviewing the sales team following a big win. Asking them to play back the outcome, including the client’s awareness of the brand and where the lead originated, resulted in a greater appreciation of marketing’s role in the process overall.

Measure what matters
The explosion in digital marketing and methods presents an unprecedented opportunity to measure more accurately. It also raises questions about what to measure.

Opinions ranged from a conscious decision not to measure at all, to the suggestion of only measuring the most elusive, and perhaps costly, perception of the brand.

It was a commonly held belief that simply measuring ‘lead gen’ results in increasingly short-term decision-making and behaviours – rather than the longer-term value derived from careful investment in building a resilient brand.

Only connect
If we accept that people make decisions, not businesses, influencing these decisions is a process perhaps better described as ‘B2P’ than ‘B2B’. To connect with people, marketing must reflect the importance of the decisions being taken and more closely reflect both a rational and an emotional point of view.

All too often, in a desire to demonstrate differentiation, businesses place themselves, their products and services at the heart of marketing.

While it might be reassuring for some executives to see themselves placed front and centre, this is only impactful if a conversation ensues. Far better, the group agreed, to lead with the customer first.

Attending to their needs and wants greatly increases the chances of stimulating a conversation, raising awareness or persuading them of a point of view.

In summary

  • To become a preferred brand: drive marketing strategy with a clear vision. This vision informs an organisation’s decisions and shapes its behaviours. Marketing should develop this vision. Ensuring a focus on the right results will attract the necessary board-level sponsorship.
  • Tell stories with both emotional and rational resonance. Place the customer at the heart of the story, not the organisation. People follow and share stories often making purchase decisions based on an emotional connection with a brand. Placing the customer at the centre of the brand narrative invites them to engage and develop their relationship more swiftly and for the long-term.
  • Measure what matters. For organisations where effectiveness is being challenged, marketing should have the courage to switch off aspects of the communications mix, to test effectiveness, while refusing responsibility for any corresponding outcomes during the same period.

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