Why Marketing is Broken


Originally published in INC. Magazine on November 12, 2013

Recent polls show that a lot of companies are unhappy with their marketing partners—and vice versa. Advertising exec Curt Hanke explains what’s wrong with the current state of marketing and how to fix it.

In a July 2012 survey, 80 percent of CEOs reported that they do not really trust and are not impressed by the work done by marketers (Fournaise Marketing Group). OK, marketing profession, what do you have to say in response?

In a separate body of research, 55 percent of marketers reported that they are not confident that they know which metrics or business outcomes their key stakeholders (such as the aforementioned CEO) actually care about (ITSMA/VEM/Forrester Marketing Performance Management Survey, 2013).

In brief: CEOs don’t trust their marketing leaders. Marketing leaders believe they don’t have clear direction from their CEOs. News at 11.

This isn’t about a crisis in marketing, it’s about a crisis in leadership, period — and there is plenty of blame to go around. Or, to frame it in a more positive light, plenty of opportunity to go around. It’s time to get back to basics; here are three places to start.

1. Clearly Defined Goals.

Recall the scene from Breakfast Club: “Am I making myself clear?” Response: “Crystal.” In my twenty years of working with clients large and small, I understand intimately how heavy is the head that wears the crown, but this is no excuse for the indecision and lack of leadership that is increasingly evident in the modern era.

Regardless of what strategic planning process they employ, leaders have an explicit obligation to provide clear expectations for their organization — and this includes a clear understanding of priorities for their marketing leadership.

And for the avoidance of doubt, this should not be a one-way conversation; marketers (and their agency partners) have not just the opportunity but also the obligation to play a significant role in defining these goals, analyzing tradeoffs, discussing implications of variables that impact these goals, and so on.

This same responsibility holds true for small companies as well; even if there are only two employees on the payroll, alignment around the size, shape, and direction of the bullseye is absolutely critical.

2. Aligned Organizational Expectations.

Now it’s gut-check time. When the marketing leader exits the CEO’s office with clear goals in hand, is their social contract understood and accepted throughout the enterprise — do we all share this goal together?

For example, if we agree that we want explosive growth that requires an immediate technology investment, is the organization ready to provide easy access to capital, or is the CFO going to give us a hassle? If our growth is predicated on additional manufacturing resources, will we get the attention we need amid other organizational priorities? If it’s about trying to steal share from a competitor who has been eating our lunch, can we add some fire to our communications — and get a longer leash on ad copy from our legal department? And so on.

In my opinion, most strategies fail not because of a lack of complexity, but because of a lack of critical thought around the key building blocks of a plan — and alignment throughout the business. What do we really want to do (and why)? What will it take to get there? What are our gaps? What are we willing to risk for this reward? Bottom line, without alignment, it’s very difficult to improve the efficacy of your marketing investment.

3. Appropriate Organizational Incentives.

“Let’s have a big year! Let’s really go for it! Let’s swing for the fences!” Not so fast.

When we’re defining organizational goals, in addition to defining the metrics that will be used to monitor and optimize progress, it’s also important to have a clear understanding of the individual implications of these efforts — in other words, the “people implications.”

Lest we forget, at the end of the day, companies are made up of people. Real people, with real families and real mortgages, with real worries that, like it or not, influence the way they make decisions.

If you want your organization to truly act like challengers, you need to reward challenger behavior — and not get seasick at the first sign of a storm. If you prioritize safe, incremental growth, then you likewise need to reward those who follow the defined protocols and hit your targeted bogeys, whatever they are.

Time after time, we’ve seen organizations that talk a big game, yet tolerate mediocre performance, fail to reward pioneers, and ultimately create a culture where risk mitigation triumphs over growth ambition.

Define goals. Create alignment. Calibrate incentives. Sounds pretty basic, right? But when the majority of CEOs are losing trust — and over half of marketers say they’re lacking clear direction — I’d argue that by getting back to basics, we could take one very big step toward getting CEOs and marketers back in the mutual admiration society.