Why You Should Be Cynical About Marketing
Marketing is too important to be left either to marketers or CEOs –– but for different reasons.
Much of marketers’ energy goes into what is popularly known as self-marketing — that is, landing the next marketing gig. If you don’t believe it, take a trip through LinkedIn, where self-promotion among marketers is brazenly and shamelessly transparent.
Marketing is also too important to allow company CEOs (or anyone else of that ilk) to get their hands on it. Inevitably, they will try to shape it to fit some notion they have inside their heads. And it will be wrong. Look no further than JCPenney’s tragic history. Even if those surrounding the CEO, including board members, know what’s wrong, many are prone to nod their heads on cue.
For marketing to be effective, it requires the best that both CEOs and professional marketers can bring to it, the former for the story (no one knows it better), and the latter for astutely translating the story into winning and keeping customers.
If either fails to understand and appreciate the role of the other, marketing fails. If either fails to perform their role, marketing fails. And if either attempts to assume the role of the other, marketing fails.
How to Be a Cynic
Because marketing is critical to a company’s success, the role of a marketer deserves careful attention, and playing the role of cynic is the best way to do perform this task. For example:
• Be cynical of anyone who lays on the marketing jargon. If someone is in marketing and they use terminology you don’t understand, watch out. This person is faking it; they’re arrogant, and they don’t know anything about marketing.
Marketing is quite different. It’s all about clarity and doing away with roadblocks to communication. The goal is bringing people together so they can interact and learn from each other.
• It helps to be cynical and believe that much of what a marketer does is actually a carefully planned exercise in résumé building. All this is quite obvious, particularly when you find a continuous string of Facebook or LinkedIn ‘experience’ and ‘expertise’ updates. Don’t be surprised if you discover that some marketers seem to have only one customer: themselves.
• While the coveted ‘marketing manager’ title is intended to elicit confidence, the cynic recognizes that it may be a cover. Quite often, this title is a sign that the person’s self-appointed role is heavy on talking, telling, and meeting, but extremely light on thinking, planning, and doing.
• Sure, you should be cynical if a marketer talks a lot about what the ‘company’ wants. Rather than focusing on customers, it’s a good bet that the boss is the only customer that counts. Marketing isn’t easy –– it requires a high degree of objectivity that recognizes when saying no is the right thing to do.
• You should be cynical when the new marketer says, “we want to spruce up the company’s image with a new logo.” If this happens, you can be sure you have the wrong person. It’s a ploy that’s often used by hires to let everyone know who is in charge (and to buff up the résumé).
Whatever company it happens to be, its identity demands research, thoughtful discussion, and testing. That’s a rigorous task that takes time. Anyone who wants to rush into adopting a new logo is likely the wrong person for the job.
• If it seems that the company’s marketing program is all over the map, it’s time to be cynical about what’s going on. A primary role of a marketer is to constantly monitor the marketing activities and make sure they reflect the agreed-upon marketing plan. If this isn’t happening, you may have a marketer problem on your hands.
• Crank up the cynicism if a marketer speaks disparagingly about customers. As odd as it might seem, there are marketers who seem to have little regard for their customers –– in effect, their clients.
Try as hard as we might, we can’t be objective, genuinely enthusiastic, or do our best work when negative biases affect our thinking.
• If it seems that those responsible for your marketing think that their task is to get people to buy stuff, it’s time to be cynical. When marketing becomes the handmaiden of sales, it’s no longer effective. In fact, it’s dead. It isn’t easy to maintain a solid customer commitment when the pressure is on to make the numbers.
Yet, if marketers have a justifiable role, it’s doing everything possible to create customers, those who discover the company is aligned with their values and want to do business with it. Inside the company, marketers have the unique task of being customer advocates, making sure that customers are heard and well-represented.
• Be cynical if you’re getting ‘copycat’ marketing. If you think most marketers are innovators and risk takers, think again. While there are exceptions, most marketers play it safe to avoid negative repercussions. They often prefer borrowing surefire ideas from others rather than developing marketing activities that uniquely serve their customers’ best interests.
• If your marketing people seem to be ‘gofers,’ it’s time to be cynical. In fact, it’s long overdue. Far too often, management (and others) treat marketing people as if their role is to do just about everything other than marketing, pulling them in more directions than the latest lottery winner. It’s time to be sufficiently cynical to put a stop to it.
Keeping a Close Eye
All this suggests that a careful review of your company’s marketing may find that cynicism doesn’t go far enough. Marketing is on target only when the various components exhibit a strong sense of unity so the whole delivers a greater impact than the sum of the individual elements. If the picture of your company’s marketing is more like the scattered pieces of a puzzle with the parts bearing little resemblance to one another, it’s time to make some serious changes.
Marketing may not be the only company function that deserves the close attention of a cynical eye –– but it’s a good place to start. n
John Graham, of GrahamComm, is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, No Nonsense Marketing & Sales; [email protected]