Marketing is difficult. Great marketing even more difficult.
This has always been – and has never been more – true. Still, it was hard to watch Sunday’s publicity game and not conclude that too many marketers had wasted the moment (and, with it, millions of dollars spent), because they were wrong. tactics for strategy, fame for creativity. They had lost sight of the essential.
Too many marketers have lost the thread that connects attention capture to influencing attitudes and behaviors. Nostalgia is not a strategy. Puppies are not a strategy. Fame is not a strategy (well, it might be a media strategy, but it’s not a creative strategy). But that’s not just true of Sundays, and it’s not just true of advertising. It is fully displayed in all parts of the marketing mix.
The evidence is everywhere and it should be terrifying for all of us. Marketing is in trouble. Brands are in trouble.
· Three out of four brands could disappear right now without anyone noticing or caring.
· Nearly eight out of 10 searches on Amazon are by category, not by brand.
For decades the CMO has been the most disposable C-suite executive and had the shortest tenure.
Having contributed to the last data point myself, I have some informed opinions on the myriad reasons why this was the case so long as it was, we’ll save those for another day. But among them, too many marketers, including some CMOs, have lost track.
Creative that solves no problems, answers no questions (looks at you, Crypto category and applauds you Google Pixel 6), and makes no lasting connection isn’t worth the :30-:90 seconds it takes to watch, let alone the millions of dollars and thousands of hours it takes to create.
Too many of us confuse tactics with strategies and strategies with goals. In the scramble to be and stay relevant, marketing is accelerating its own irrelevance by losing sight of the “who” and “why” that precedes the “what” and “how”.
Simon Sinek must be furious.
Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve read and listened as marketers do interviews to these statements that don’t exactly inspire confidence:
The CMO of a global brand proudly shared that over the past few years he “learned to put the customer back at the center of what [they] do.” This made me wonder what they were doing when the customer (current or potential) was not there.
· Another CMO, when asked what advice he would give to other marketers, replied “remember to tie your marketing objectives to company goals”. What exactly would marketing be related to if not these? Another lost thread.
A brilliant communications planner spoke about the need to work behind the scenes to get his creative team to think as much about the audience of the brand for which they are creating like their own wallet. Proof again that we have lost the thread – the why – that guides what we do.
There is a significant difference between missing the target, however inevitable, and missing the point. Clearly the point is missed, too often by too many, and in the wrong way.
How did we get here? Well, marketing is hard, and good marketing is even harder. And the thousands of seismic and fundamental shifts — cultural shifts, behavior shifts, new platforms, crumbling cookies, collapsing funnels, media fraud, measurement myopia, pick your poison — haven’t helped.
But in the explosion of data, platforms, means, methods and measures (etc.) and in the fragmentation and decentralization of audiences, we have also lost sight of and the thread of what endures. We need it. Quickly.
Although things have changed, two things have not changed.
First, how our brains are wired and function. Two, why people buy. Because, however subjective and often subconscious the reasons are, they largely remain what they always were.
So, maybe it’s time for us, this community of marketers, to reconsider the fundamentals of marketing. An example? Consider JWT’s 1974 Planning Guide. The truths and premises that surround this document transcend the nearly 50 years that have passed and all the changes that have occurred. Read it again, or for the first time.
What other fundamentals could we rediscover and grasp? Among those who were most evident in their absence on Sunday:
Stand up for something true, real, lasting
· Be significantly different. Different is better than better in a world of good enough alternatives (as Amazon’s data reminds us.)
Create a clear distinction
· Solve problems; practical or emotional
Rely on or move away from human biases and predispositions
Of course, there are more. Numerous. The brilliant foundations of what we do – or at least did – before we lost track.
Because at the end of the day, whether we’re selling soap or enterprise solutions, we’re marketing and selling to people. People whose attention guarantees us nothing unless we do something when we have it. Work that gets talked about but doesn’t add brand or commercial value doesn’t have much value, does it?
But it is difficult. As any parent knows (and for that matter anyone who was a child), it is difficult to influence attitudes and behaviors even if you manage to capture attention. (Kid Cudi is looking at you, Kanye). But that’s impossible if we don’t tie the threads together.
I don’t want to throw stones. That’s why I didn’t name any names (apart from Kanye’s). Because even though I’ve only been at Forbes for two weeks, I’ve been and advised the C-suite for a career. I am acutely aware of the difficulties inherent in moving from objectives to insight to idea to execution to return on investment.
On a good day and on smaller stages, the challenge and struggle is real, and it can be exhausting and debilitating (we’ll discuss the mental health of this community in later articles), especially for CMOs.
CMOs whose CEO sometimes may not have the experience and understanding of marketing to match their opinions. Or a CFO, who is neither penalized for spending less nor, ever, plugged into the myriad changes, shifts, and choices that the CMO and the community of marketers around and supporting him or her are facing. confronted.
Again, marketing is difficult. Great marketing even more difficult. But it’s work, and that’s a big part of why, on our best days, we love work and the intellectual and creative challenges that surround it.
I have no illusions that my call for a re-examination of the basics offers groundbreaking insight or bold advice. On the contrary. But neither is it a Luddite’s lament. It is a plea to keep things simple in a landscape of great and growing complexity.
Unlike a lot of Sunday commercials, I’m not hopelessly nostalgic. But I wonder if the best way to prepare for the uncertain future of marketing is to go back and grasp some of the enduring truths and fundamentals the industry was built on.
While the status quo is an albatross around the neck of progress, there are things from the past, too often overlooked in the present, that just might help more marketing be great. Because in marketing as in football as in life, success is better thought of as a consequence rather than an objective.
It’s a consequence of what we do and the choices and sacrifices we make or don’t make. It’s a conversation about these marketing challenges, choices and sacrifices that we hope Forbes The CMO Network can help foster and facilitate. We hope to add more value to what you all do, from CMO to AAE, by amplifying, bringing together and bringing scale to marketing conversations, ideas, people, work, creativity, innovations and news that needs it.
It will require us to make choices and sacrifices, and no doubt some of them will be wrong. We are counting on you to Let us know when we do.
It’s unlikely that we can make marketing any less difficult, but maybe together we can make quality marketing more mainstream. Maybe together we can make only 70% of marks disappear without anyone noticing.
So, for the love of great brands, good marketing, and the people at its heart, we hope you choose to be even more of a part of this conversation — and the Forbes CMO community—moving forward.
But, it’s your choice. Our job is to make your decision easier. It’s never easy, but it’s fundamental.