Why marketing today takes courage

marketing courage

I recently spent a few days with the CMO of a well-known company in Denmark. I filled his head with a vision of what was both necessary and possible in this new world of digital marketing and he turned to me with a serious look on his face.

“This is going to be difficult, isn’t it?” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“To take advantage of these opportunities … I’m not sure we have the right organization, the right people, the right skills to make this change. To succeed, it’s going to take a lot of courage, isn’t it?”

I had not thought about it quite that way before, but my friend is right. Leading marketing transformation is going to take some guts. It means moving from

  • What we have done versus what we need to do
  • What we have permission to do, versus what the market requires us to do
  • Using available resources versus creating the optimal team for NOW
  • Creating a budget based on “what we did last year” to funding focused on breakthroughs

I think another reason we need courage is that many times we have to make an uncertain move because business requires so much speed. Speed matters today.

We can’t hesitate … and we don’t always know what we’re getting into. Marketing today requires a much higher tolerance for ambiguity than it did at the beginning of my career.

Strategy is liquid

For decades, our opportunities to maneuver were extremely limited. Traditional media. Trade shows. Maybe a little PR. Today the opportunities to reach our customers are shifting all the time. And more significantly, the rules of engagement are shifting, too. What worked last week may not work this week.

It takes courage to explain that to your boss.

Years ago, strategy was a function of the price, product, placement, promotion. Yes, that still matters but today, success is three-dimensional, a combination of speed, space, and time. Strategy today is not putting a flag in the ground. It’s putting a flag in the sand. Strategy is liquid.

I was recently working with a fairly large firm who desperately needed to make a transition from print and paper to digital marketing. But everybody on the staff was firmly rooted in newspaper and magazine advertising. The CMO tried a re-training program but it became apparent she was creating chaos and confusion instead of a digitally-savvy team. It wasn’t going to work. She needed to fire and re-hire. Courage? Yeah.

Marketing takes courage

It’s interesting to compare the rate of change in other major company functions with marketing. Let’s face it, if you’re in HR, manufacturing, or accounting your daily routine is not dramatically different than it was 10 years ago. Sure the laws have changed, competition shifts and there’s always new technology to learn but the function is basically the same. Marketing? It would be unrecognizable to the people who wrote the text books or taught me when I was in college.

Today, marketing is math instead of instinct. It’s continuous testing and iteration instead of “stay the course.” Marketing means crowdsourcing and collaboration rather than building a team that is on a definable career path.

Leading a marketing function today takes a wholly different skills than it did 10 years ago. Chief among them, courage.

This post was originally written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell’s thought leadership site PowerMoreDell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

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  • Hi Mark — No argument at all with the idea that marketing leaders today need courage to drive change within marketing and across the company. But I would quibble with a few of your points.

    In terms of change, I think it’s critical to distinguish between the incredible changes in marketing tactics from the largely unchanged basics of what marketers ultimately are trying to accomplish: understand customers and the market, define new opportunities, bring new offerings to market, support sales, strengthen company reputation, strengthen customer loyalty, etc. Those certainly aren’t changing even as the particulars of how we do them change.

    I’d also question your suggestion that marketing is changing radically but other corporate functions not so much. I’ve also been interviewing marketing leaders at a host of large firms recently, and one of the most common challenges they discuss is the difficulty of driving change within marketing while trying to keep up with the equally dramatic upheavals going on in sales, service, product development, etc. At least in B2B tech, where I work, the whole company is racing to transform, as are our partners, customers, and competitors. Courage for sure, but across the whole organization, not just marketing!

  • I agree with you that the fundamentals of good marketing practices are solid, which is why I can consult to so many diverse organizations. The skills are very transferrable.

    However, research, channels, distribution, etc — how we do this — has changed in crazy ways. The tactics are shifting quite a lot.

    I appreciate the dissenting view but it is not my experience that the rate of change is consistent in other functions. However I certainly can see how that is true for you. Thank you.

  • I agree that every area in any organization is experiencing waves of change. The entire organization must adapt….but too few big American organizations have the ability to do so appropriately due to their “We’ve always done it that way” attitude.

    Still, (as I contend in my Comment elsewhere on this great Post by Mark), Marketing is Strategy. As the part of the organization that is the customer facing “tip of the spear”, it is being most strongly buffeted and, in turn, guides all other departments.

    As an example, a friend who is in Production assures me that he doesn’t start his budget process for needed resources until the Marketing Plan is underway and set. Then he knows his targets. Same goes for HR, Finance, etc. who must be resourced adequately to support comprehensive Marketing efforts.

    I spend 8 weeks teaching this stuff so if the above sounds simplistic, I agree,

  • I completely agree! Courage and 200% of dedication to continuously stay on top of marketing technologies and innovation.

  • Amen Olena!

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