The greatest marketing challenge

The greatest marketing challenge
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Sales people live and die by the numbers. At the end of every quarter, make it or miss it, they start again. It’s like Groundhog Day. Bill Murray could certainly appreciate the feeling.

The biggest problem of course is missing it a few times in a row. If you do have a patch of inconsistency, you’re likely to be confronted with a different challenge – finding a new job.

For those in marketing, the exact opposite is true. A brand is built consistently over time. Campaigns may run quarter to quarter, but brand loyalty is built on shared values.

The only way to see what an organisation’s values are, is to see them put to the test over an extended period. Sentiment can shift like your mood, sometimes as erratically as the wind, and it’s measured in shades of grey. Loyalty on the other hand is either there, or it’s not.

Someone who understood this well is the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. He was once quoted as saying: “It took us three years to build the NeXT computer. If we’d given customers what they said they wanted, we’d have built a computer they’d have been happy with a year after we spoke to them – not something they’d want now.”

It’s this mentality – this long term thinking and Steve’s ability to craft a yarn – that has seen Apple develop an intensely loyal following. His position was always centred on how his company didn’t just make cool products, but was changing the world. And it worked. In the most recent Interbrand Study of the Best Global Brands, Apple sits top of the pile with a brand value of $98,316m. Better still, it’s reflected in the share price which has grown five times since the start of 2009.

For marketers, the challenge is this – being sensitive to the sales team and the selling cycle, while finding a balance that allows them to paint a picture highlighting their organisation’s values.

This tension is a dilemma. It’s a dichotomy – particularly because of the cannibalism of marketing functions.

Not only is there a battle at the C-suite for mindshare with other divisional leaders, even within a marketing team; the programs people, the product people, the advertising people, the digital people, and the communications people often don’t see eye to eye.

Of course with a finite budget, people tend towards varied expectations and goals, but the primary issue is where this manifests in the different functions speaking different languages. So, how is this problem resolved?

As a communications professional, you may say I have an agenda, and I do, but it’s possibly not what you think.

I sit on the leadership team across two agencies that have serviced the technology space for the last 15 years. From where I sit, this fractured ecosystem of marketers makes all functions a lot less effective. I strongly believe if marketing is to be the greatest support to the sales team and the business as a whole, it must clean house.

Specialisation is helpful but not if it splinters to such an extent there is no overarching dialogue. Reporting structures therefore need to tighten up and greater levels of accountability need to be tied to this goal.

Statistics revealed at the 2012 Global PR Summit showed 83% of survey respondents believe reputation is the consequence of the authentic behaviour of an organisation.

This is something PR must lead. It’s a lesson marketers must learn from. Communications professionals’ core value is their ability to create a narrative. They are storytellers by nature. If ever there was a time to elevate their status within the business and actively work on re-architecting the perception they are just spin doctors, or PR people chasing headlines and clippings, it is now.

The proliferation of social tools means cultivating community must be a seminal KPI at the crux of every marketer’s ambition. With so many communities to engage, being able to tell the right stories at the right moment, via the right vehicles, is central to everything else.

Programs will therefore generate more leads. Product will be valued more highly because it is differentiated more articulately. Advertising will cut through more effectively, and digital assets will become customer relationship gold.

Consequently, communications initiatives will create a legacy and a platform from which the share price can build on.

For me, it’s just common sense. CMOs must understand the growing influence comms pros have over the marketing matrix. They are the reason much of a purchaser’s mind is made up before the customer even speaks with someone from sales.

It’s time the organisational chart reflected the new balance.

Aaron Crowther is the group business director for Spectrum Communications and Max Australia.

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