A majority of executives today think that marketers lack credibility and a solid understanding of how business works. Overall, the marketing function suffers from a lack of customer awareness and engagement. Just ask the "man on the street."
Ask him or her to define what marketing is, and the answer will usually come down to some comment about sales or advertising. Certainly, consumers understand the need for sales and the effectiveness of advertising by businesses that can afford to do it well.
But marketing and selling are different things. While advertising is a form of marketing, it cannot be the only thing, or the biggest thing marketers do. And in our new era of digital analytics, it's time that marketers understood the task before them.
Simply put, that task is no longer the one marketers were happy with for decades: as in, get out the message ("buy our stuff") to the most people with the highest frequency possibly, and measure your success according to whether you've maximized your budget for reach and frequency.
Here are five overall changes that today's marketers need to understand:
1. The world has changed.
In the early days of the web, corporate brochures were translated into websites, and traditional advertising was translated into banner ads, where click-through rates could reach 20 percent or more. Search engines became a gateway for anyone, anywhere, to access all the information they could want.
Then social media came along, allowing all of us to connect with other people with similar interests. That was followed by smartphones, which emerged with enough power to deliver all the content of the Internet in an instant.
With all of this information at our fingertips, we started to ignore the ads. Even television ads are skipped by most consumers able to do so. Banner ads have become so ineffective that publishers are forced to interrupt their content with welcome ads and video auto-play.
2. We are all publishers.
The mobile web provides the infrastructure for us all to share what is news, what’s interesting, what meets our needs -- by offering an ever-increasing onslaught of content.
"Spray and pray" tactics are no longer effective. Every business needs to understand how to create content its customers actually want. Marketing is no longer optional for even the smallest business.
3. We're in a battle for customer attention.
Content is the new game for marketers, as businesses seek to attract audiences instead of buying them. Entire departments, agencies and technologies are being formed to handle all the content and data that move across the web.
For a long time, at some businesses, marketers have simply executed the tactics, checked the boxes and collected a paycheck. But those days are quickly coming to an end, and businesses need to understand how to reach their customers in today's attention-starved world.
4. Marketing is a conversation.
Leading organizations understand the need to see the digital-social-mobile world as a "conversation," and understand that marketing has always been a dialogue between the business and the consumer. The difference today is that technology now allows that conversation to happen in real-time.
Indeed, today's successful business marketing looks a lot more like publishing, requiring editors and writers, as well as someone to share it and someone to measure the results.
The innovators in this space are finding talented artists to help them tell their stories creatively; and they're using the latest technology to go beyond reach and frequency. Their content is continuous, moving past just "pushing product" into emotional storytelling.
These innovators understand that behind every visit, share and purchase is a person, and they seek to meet the needs of that audience in a human way, using the same great storytelling techniques traditionally used by Hollywood studios.
5. We need marketing that gets respect.
The newest definition of marketing commands respect, leads the business and puts customers at the center of everything. Some have used the term “extreme customer-centricity,” where the customer (in the form of data, ideas and insights) defines the business plan. Nothing is created unless it serves a customer need.
Underlining all is the foundational belief that serving customers serves the business.
This belief increases innovation and experimentation. Products become better and employees become engaged in helping customers solve a problem. Customers then buy more and feel better about their purchases.
This is the promise of today’s marketing-led company. But business executives have their role to play, too.
Each executive helps define the amount of customer-centricity in a company. Simultaneously, marketing acts as the arbiter of customer insights to deliver amazing experiences across all customer touch points. And product innovation then moves faster, employee engagement goes up, sales increase and maybe, finally, marketing gets some respect.
Are you winning the battle for customer attention?
It's time to focus on helping customers instead of pushing product. Marketing is more than just advertising and it's different from selling. Marketing helps brands communicate with customers by delivering the content they want.
And the lesson here? Customers want stories, not ads.