Now, That’s a Job Description I Could Get Behind!

First published February 20, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

I couldn’t help but notice that last week’s column, where I railed against the marketer’s obsession with tricks, loopholes and pat sound bites got a fair number of retweets. The irony? At least a third of those retweets twisted my whole point – that six seconds (or any arbitrary length of message) isn’t the secret to getting a prospect engaged. The secret is giving them something they want to engage with.

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As anyone who has been unfortunate to spend some time with me when I’m in particularly cynical mood about marketing can attest to, I go a little nuts with this “Top Ten Tricks” or “The Secret to…” mentality that seems pervasive in marketing. I’m pretty sure that anyone who retweeted last week’s column with a preface like “Does your advertising engage your consumer in 6 seconds or less? If not, you’re likely losing customers” didn’t bother to actually read past the first paragraph. Maybe not even the first line.

And that’s the whole problem. How can we expect marketers to build empathy, usefulness and relevance into their strategy when many of them have the attention span of a small gnat? As my friend Scott Brinker likes to say when it comes to marketer’s misbehaving, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

Marketing – good marketing – is not easy but it’s also not a black box. It’s not about secrets or tricks or one-off tactics. It’s about really understanding your customers at an incredibly deep level and then working your ass off to create a meaningful engagement with them. Trying to reduce marketing to anything less than that is like trying to breeze your way through 50 years of marriage by following the Top 3 Tricks to get lucky this Friday night.

Again, this is about meaningful engagements. And when I say meaningful, it’s the customer that gets to decide what’s meaningful. That’s what’s potentially so exciting about breakthroughs like the Oreo Super Bowl campaign. It’s the opportunity to learn what’s meaningful to prospects and then to shift and tailor our responses in real time. Until now, marketing has been “Plan, Push and Pray.” We plan our attack, we push out our message and we pray it finds it’s target and that they respond by buying stuff. If they don’t buy stuff, something went wrong, probably in the planning stage. But that is an awfully long feedback loop.

You’ll notice something about this approach to marketing. The only role for the prospect is as a consumer. If they don’t buy, they don’t participate.  This comes as a direct result of the current job description of a marketer: Someone who gets someone else to buy stuff. But what if we rethink that description? Technology that enables real time feedback is allowing us to create an entirely new relationship with customers. What would happen if we redefined marketing along these lines: To understand the customer’s reality, focusing on those areas where we can solve their problems and improve that reality?

And as much as that sounds like a pat sound bite, if you really dig into it, it’s far from a quick fix. This is a way to make a radically different organization. And it moves marketing into a fundamentally different role. Previously, marketing got its marching orders from the CEO and CFO. Essentially, they were responsible for moving the top line ever northward. It was an internally generated mandate – to increase sales.

But what if we rethink this? What if the entire organization’s role is to constantly adapt to a dynamic environment, looking for advantageous opportunities to improve that environment? And, in this redefined vision, what if marketing’s role was to become the sense-making interface of the company? What if it was the CMO’s job was to consistently monitor the environment, create hypotheses about how to best create adaptive opportunities and then test those hypotheses in a scientific manner?

In this redefinition of the job, Big Data and Real Time Marketing take on significantly new qualities, first as a rich vein of timely information about the marketplace and secondly as a never ending series of instant field experiments to provide empirical backing to strategy.

Now, marketing’s job isn’t to sell stuff, it’s to make sense of the market and, in doing so, help define the overall strategic direction of the company. There are no short cuts, no top ten tricks, but isn’t that one hell of a job description?

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