Ashley Friedlein: Data suggests we are a sorry bunch, but a new golden age for marketing could be upon us

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Ashley Friedlein article

I was amazed at the continuing gap (21%) in average pay between the genders. But it wasn’t that so much as a certain despondency and lack of oomph that came through the data. Most marketers feel underpaid, they feel that the function is not ‘understood’ internally, and more than a quarter are unhappy in their jobs.

Previous research by Marketing Week shows that even marketers agree that we do not market marketing very well. Further research showed that only 39% of finance executives have confidence in marketers to make good commercial decisions.

Are we really such a sorry bunch? Are we not able to step up, be bold and ambitious and show leadership at a time that surely must be a great opportunity, given all the customer-centricity flying around?

I have written with great excitement about the opportunities provided by ‘modern marketing’ and the chance for marketers to lead digital and cultural transformations, and indeed become CEO, but the data suggests a marketing community that is surly rather than impassioned.

In a broad sense, the opportunity for marketers is to expand the remit of marketing and become more involved in the business, engaging with more functions, in order to drive changes that improve the entire business, not just ‘marketing’. If we do not want to be doing the proverbial ‘colouring in’ or ‘putting lipstick on the pig’, we have to contribute to changing the actual product, proposition or service itself. We are, after all, the ‘voice of the customer’.

One area where I see lots of passion, creativity and great marketing is in start-ups. Slack is the latest sensation from Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield. A recent interview with him talks about how Slack has attracted more than 30,000 teams to use its app, which is already valued at over $1bn, and yet has not “run any big integrated marketing campaigns”. According to the Firstround.com article, it does not have “an elaborate email strategy or buy million-dollar billboards”. Slack achieved those user numbers “without a CMO”, although it has one now.

If you read the interview, however, you will immediately see that Butterfield is an excellent marketer. If Slack did not need a CMO in that period, it was perhaps because a natural marketer was already running the business. And, yes, he talks the talk of modern marketing (“every customer interaction is a marketing opportunity”, using social for service, product feedback and iteration) but he also shows a great understanding of the power of PR and advises us not to “underestimate the power of traditional media when you launch”. Butterfield is not a purely digital apostle but a multichannel marketing man.

Last year, the Marketing Academy ran its Inspire event and identified five things that kept marketers from becoming leaders. Being risk adverse was one; underselling marketing and not being curious about the rest of the business were two others.

Meanwhile, I see real passion and vibrancy coming from other functions and disciplines, notably product managers. There is a risk that marketing is marginalised to something that is added on rather than being integral to business, proposition and service design.

Just as I was lapsing into despondency about the apparent inertia within marketing an unlikely champion rode to my rescue. McKinsey has announced “the dawn of marketing’s new golden age”. It talks of creative minds expressing themselves through digital, of marketing transcending the marketing organisation itself and extending “into the guts of the business”, particularly by leading the transformation of customers’ experiences, of marketing being the ‘glue across the organisation’.

That is more like it. Fighting talk. So where do you stand? A marketing Eeyore or bathing in the glow of our new golden age?

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