Marketing Is Not a Foreign Language

Posted on by Jordan Buning

The main challenge facing marketers in 2024 might not be a new one.

The idea of marketing as a standalone department is crystallized in popular culture. Think of the AMC drama “Mad Men”—the story of an insular advertising agency with its own language, uncompromising internal politics and ambitions disconnected from those of its clients. The series might have been set in the 1960s, but its stereotypes persist to this day. Periodically, the stereotype of the out-of-touch marketer re-enters the imagination whenever a popular advertising campaign backfires. Even within institutions, the stereotype of a marketing department as a cost center versus revenue driver persists.

From a practical standpoint, marketers ought to exist on less of an island than ever in the business world. So why doesn’t it seem like it?

Pointing the Blame Inward

In some ways, marketing did this to itself. Historically, it hasn’t been clearly defined for, or connected to, other business elements. A welder welds. A judge judges. What does a marketer do? The answer isn’t necessarily obvious, even to others within the same organization.

Today’s marketing departments possess individuals with wildly diverse job descriptions. Whether they operate in the B2B or B2C space often defines the nature and pace of their work. By necessity, marketing is constantly adapting to the digital age, relegating the “Mad Men” milieu to the history books. Against this backdrop, the successes and failures of today’s marketers can’t be measured by something as crude as the number of “likes” and “followers” behind a social media campaign. Yet in specialized, service-based industries where marketers commonly occupy their own silo—think healthcare, education, manufacturing, financial services, etc.—a limited understanding of marketing persists.

Better communication is needed to fill in the gaps. More work must be done to educate stakeholders—particularly within your own organization—on how to understand, evaluate and engage with the work of marketers.

Making the Connection

Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only these two—basic functions: marketing and innovation.” In a sense, connecting the work of marketers to the other functions of a business has never been easier.

That’s because the utility of every business unit can be reduced to a three-letter acronym: ROI. Measuring the return on investment of any marketing initiative with granularity hasn’t always been possible. Now, thanks to the sophisticated analytics of today’s digital marketing tools, it is. And the ROI of innovation is only as good as the ability of a marketer to entice a unique product or service to customers and clients. Conversely, the marketer’s success depends at least in part on the success of the product or service; the two are intertwined.

The need for marketers to translate the language of the innovators to the masses is as old as time. As the language of marketing evolves, it, too, needs to be more easily understood by the innovators, and everyone else in the organization. Getting on the same page can begin by sitting down with the other stakeholders and answering some basic questions:

  1. What is this initiative trying to achieve strategically for our organization?
  2. What audience are you trying to reach? What do they want, how do they behave and where are they?
  3. What positioning for the offer best aligns to the audience?
  4. What measurables that matter in the C-suite can be owned or delivered by marketing?

By aligning on objectives early in the development process, a marketing team can understand what excites and motivates the rest of their team before designing and executing a marketing campaign, bringing both sides closer together in a collaborative process.

More Measurables Than Ever

Speaking of measurables, technology has empowered a more analytical approach to measuring the successes and failures of marketing initiatives. Gone are the days of “build and run it advertising.” Today’s marketing campaigns are measured via complex combinations of search; email; content; hyper-targeting; personalization; adaptive media; A/B testing; and data analytics.

By harvesting more granular customer insights than before, these methods are not only allowing marketers to find what works and adjust on the fly. They’re reinventing the customer experience, allowing brands to find new ways to connect with and engage consumers online.

Rather than merely limiting marketing to those with technical expertise, these tools have ushered a new generation of marketers to the table, bringing new and exciting opportunities to take initiative, channel more creative and analytical abilities, and better demonstrate marketing’s contribution to an organization’s profitability.

Jordan Buning is President of ddm marketing + communications.


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