Help Prevent Fluffy Marketing

Marketing often gets a bad rap for being “fluffy” – especially from those in fields that tend to be viewed as more objective like operations, engineering or accounting.   Even if no harm is meant, this “marketing is fluff” attitude will hold back an organization’s success.   People just aren’t going to put their very best efforts into supporting marketing activities they don’t fully believe in.

I’ve been fortunate to work at several companies where marketing was taken very seriously across the company.  These companies did specific things that made marketing feel REAL (not fluffy) to all employees.  Based on my experiences, here are a few things that will make marketing more REAL for everyone:

1. The marketing department must have clearly defined responsibilities with specific, measurable goals.  This seems way too obvious – but, for some reason, many marketing departments escape from having even minimal levels of accountability.  I don’t understand why this is tolerated.  Not only does a lack of accountability perpetuate the attitude that marketing is fluff, it also keeps the best people out of marketing.  Highly capable employees are not attracted to nebulous jobs where performance isn’t accurately measured and appropriately rewarded.  Talented marketing managers with clear accountability will go a long way toward earning respect for marketing – inside and outside the department.

2. Analyze the true cause and effect impact of marketing actions.  Don’t let the only measures of marketing performance be top-line revenue and opinions about the look and feel of advertising.  That’s like managing a baseball team by correlating the number of runs scored with the color of the players’ uniforms.  Marketing feels REAL when the organization has confidence in activities that truly drive results.  Be serious about measuring and analyzing REAL customer behavior, not just opinions.  It’s hard work, but worthwhile.  Without knowledge of, and confidence in, true cause and effect relationships, an organization is doomed to chasing the marketing gimmick-of-the-month.

3. Harness the competitive spirit.   Competition is a powerful motivator.  Be honest and vocal (internally, at least) about how your organization is doing against the competition.  If you’re losing market-share, don’t sugarcoat it or hide it from employees.  Make sure everybody – not just marketing – knows it and knows what they can do to change things.  Also, don’t confine commercial success to only the marketing department.  When all employees experience both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, marketing feels REAL and the organization will naturally move toward activities that generate more wins.

4. Passionately respect deadlines.  Whatever your key performance drivers are, implement them against a schedule of deadlines like your life depends on it.  Otherwise, it’s easy for marketing activities to drift.   If new product features are a critical driver of sales, set hard goals to release new features on a regular basis – annually, quarterly, monthly – whatever makes sense in your market.

I learned the power of REAL deadlines when I was in charge of marketing seasonal products like snowthrowers at Toro.  If we missed a deadline for a feature introduction, we were out of the game for at least a year.  That’s REAL and powerful motivation!  If you don’t have a seasonal product to create a sense of urgency, anchor your deadlines to other REAL events, like trade shows or annual price sheet releases.

5. Encourage frequent customer interaction by all employees.  Don’t let sales and marketing horde the customer experience.  The more interaction all employees have with customers, the more REAL customers will become.  Customer visits, sales calls, trade shows, customer training – these are all opportunities for employees outside of marketing and sales to develop a sense that customers are REAL – not just some vague demographic made up by the marketing department.

Recognize that most people outside of marketing are predisposed to believe that marketing is fluffy.  Therefore, a marketing department has to work doubly hard to feel REAL to the rest of the organization.    Implementing the processes and disciplines above will help make marketing more REAL – to everybody.

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