Marketers: We’ve Seen the Enemy — and It’s Us

Posted on May 9, 2009

I’ve had several very interesting conversations with business leaders this week.   The subject?   The irony that while companies are laying off millions of people and the shareholders are demanding better ROI from marketing activity — CMO’s are doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

My first conversation was with a CEO of a Houston-based digital agency who is a Harvard MBA with more than a decade of experience helping companies move from interruption offline advertising to measurable online engagement.   As he described the frustrations his firm has endured with multi-national energy companies, national retailers, and regional hospital systems — the theme was the same.   In each case, a C-level executive complained of declining sales results from their existing marketing and the need for improving financial visibility through metrics.  However, when presented with a strategy to accomplish these demands, these same C-level executives retreated to doing what they always do: (i) allocating most of their marketing budget to brand/image advertising, (ii) measuring nothing, and (iii) sitting back and expecting prospects to walk in their doors.  In other words, while the traditional purchase funnel has three stages (Awareness, Consideration, Purchase) plus social feedback monitoring, these guys are focusing largely on one:  Awareness.

The second conversation was with a bank VP of Marketing who told me his bank wanted to ” … get involved in social media ..” When I asked what the bank was doing today to engage prospects, capture leads, and build relationships with small/medium businesses, the answer was “… quarterly breakfast meetings to talk about the state of the economy.”   I pointed out that as a small business owner, if I want to know what’s going on with the economy I am a browser click away from real-time information, so why would I drive across town?   Here’s the real kicker — these guys are actually achieving good attendance to their events but are squandering an incredibly valuable asset (attention span of prospects) that could be used to engage, empower, and assist business leaders with tools to help them grow their business.   If the bank has no real permission-based engagement strategy for prospects in a live setting, how can it hope to engage people across the social web?

I won’t bore you with the other conversations (including former Omnicom marketers in Dallas), but the stories were similar:  when presented with a new way to do things, marketers won’t venture out of the box to execute.  Sure, they buy lots of Seth Godin books, attend all the right SEM conferences, and can repeat the buzzwords — but they won’t actually put their head knowledge into practice.   One theory a marketing consultant shared with me is that they believe today’s marketers are afraid to try new things for fear of losing their jobs.   My response is that this is precisely the best approach TO losing your job — as companies are looking for the “creme to rise” in organizations.

Unless marketers get off the sofa and start practicing what they preach — guys like Godin, Reichheld, Beckwith, Hall, Silverstein, Kotler, and others will continue to sell books — but the opportunity to actually reinvent businesses will be lost.   Call if fear, apathy, laziness, or just plain cowardice — the mirror may be the CMO’s best metric for why organizations are failing to deliver.

As Jim Collins said a decade ago in his best-seller Good to Great when people reach the level of “good” with anything in life, they stop striving to be great.   Sad but true, perhaps Collins should note that in today’s marketing culture, many have stopped striving for “good” and have focused on simply surviving to the next payroll period.

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