November 11, 2014
How buyers buy has changed how we need to think and act as marketers. If you love uncertainty, then being a marketer today feels like being a kid on summer vacation – so many opportunities, ideas and inspiration. But apprehensive marketers are holding onto traditional practices. They think that if they ignore the disruption, they won’t have to address it. Uncertainty and fear of the unknown freezes their ability to be open to new ideas and opportunities. In between these two groups are those just trying to keep their heads above water. The thread that connects this random range of emotions about being a marketer today is that everyone still yearns for influence within their organizations. We’re scraping for dollars, resources and respect. We have to prove ROI on every investment we make and continually push for the value we think we deliver.
Research by the Fornaisse Marketing Group says 73 percent of CEOs think marketing lacks credibility. On the other hand, 69 percent of marketers think their strategies and campaigns do make an impact – they just don’t know how to prove it. They aren’t equipped to have marketing conversation in the context of the impact that they have on the business. Much of this disconnect between marketing and CEOs stems from marketers not understanding the strategic and leadership roles we need to take on to drive growth.
This struggle doesn’t apply purely to marketers in the trenches. In their research report, “The Transformative CMO,” the Korn/Ferry Institute points out that to become a “transformative” CMO, executives must understand how the marketing function intertwines with every other function within the company. To be successful, these executives need to drive enterprise-wide change in an increasingly complex and unpredictable business environment.
Living in Beta
By the time we’ve witnessed, experienced and documented a best practice, our customers have often moved on. Our nemesis isn’t our perceived competitors – it’s our customers’ short attention span. In order to think creatively about how we capture and keep their attention, we have to think differently about the role we have within our organizations.
Modern marketers face incredible change and the pressure is only accelerating. Forrester Research and the Business Marketing Association released their findings about the expanding role of marketing in B2B organizations. Ninety-seven percent of marketers said they expect the pace of change in their organization to accelerate, and 76 percent felt their leadership judges success or failure faster. Other findings include:
- 21% of marketers say the skills for which they were hired are now obsolete
- 97% see a dramatic increase in the breadth of skills needed
- 97% are doing things they’ve never done before
- 45% can’t find candidates with the right skills
We have a constant demand for new skills and added resources. But if CEOs aren’t seeing our worth and we’re not able to prove it, how do we function in this new landscape? We need to expand our leadership and influence at the same pace as our responsibility.
We need to become strategically bold about our profession and our responsibilities. We need to become comfortable living and working in beta because that’s where growth lies for all of us. In trying new ideas, testing new approaches and thinking unconventionally. We need to appreciate uncertainty, because comfort and growth can’t coexist.
We need innovative thinking. And that requires us to examine our perceptions about marketing’s role and how we can lead change.
Feel the Fear. Do It Anyway.
Here’s the kicker. We can’t convince executive leadership of the value we deliver to our organizations unless we believe it ourselves and actually walk the walk.
Because our environment has changed so dramatically in just the past few years, many marketers feel fearful and take the safe route with their careers and their corporate initiatives. The result is a “play it safe” mentality that results in uninspired ideas and work. This squanders talent and adds fuel to our customers’ perception that we’re just creating noise in the marketplace.
We need to question assumptions about our profession beyond “how to” conversations. Marcus Sheridan talks about The Honest Economy, how transparency separates the teachers from the information hoarders. Jay Baer is changing our thinking from hype to help. But we need more of this. We need marketers to lift their heads from their desks and pay attention to the change that surrounds us. Join in the conversation and share your point of view. Push fear aside and be willing to have these conversations with your peers at work, your executive teams and the greater marketing community.
What’s Our Story?
If we’re going to elevate marketing to the leadership position it deserves within our organizations, we need more of these opinions and points of view. Because until we’re able to take a leadership role in elevating the dialogue about what we do to a business conversation, and how we maneuver the new environment, we’re doomed to remain as order takers, tacticians and undervalued overhead.
Now’s the time to look to the horizon and discuss what could be. What’s our story as the marketing profession? It’s the only way that we’ll be able to prepare today for the skillsets, demands and expectations of what companies need for agile environments that can shift with changing customer expectations.
In order to lead companies and industries, marketers must first understand how to lead our profession. How will traditional processes hold up under this time of transition future? Without the willingness to have these conversations, we’re creating a hidden force that undermines our work: legacy thinking. When under pressure, it’s easy to default to what we know and find comfortable. The pull of the past is hard to resist – a pull so strong that it makes it hard to change thinking, processes and outcomes.
Unless you take time to understand your profession, the changes we’re facing will leave you in the dust. It’s not just what do you need to know to get your next job, it’s what do you need to know to be able to keep your existing job.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be in marketing. You may find your company waking up and welcoming the ideas you bring to the table, encouraging you to think bigger and broader. Or you may realize that now’s the time to move on and find a situation that better fits your style.
Regardless, I encourage you to be brave, have fun, and, most importantly, lean into the change.
About Carla Johnson
Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.
Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.
In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds - Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.
Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.