Marketing is difficult. Great marketing even harder.
That has always been – and never was – true. Still, it was difficult to watch Sunday’s promotional play and not conclude that too many marketers wasted the moment (and thereby spent millions of dollars) because they were wrong Tactics for strategy, fame for creativity. They had lost sight of the basics.
Too many marketers have lost the thread that connects attracting attention to influencing attitudes and behaviors. Nostalgia is not a strategy. Puppies are not a strategy. Fame isn’t a strategy (well, maybe it’s a media one, but it’s not a creative one). But that doesn’t just apply to Sundays and not just to advertising. It is fully visible in all parts of the marketing mix.
The evidence is everywhere and it should be chilling 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.
· Almost eight out of ten searches on Amazon are by category, not by brand.
· For decades, the CMO was the least available executive of the C-suite and had the shortest tenure.
Having contributed to the last data point myself, I have informed opinions on the myriad reasons why this has been the case for so long, we’ll save those for another day. But among other things, too many marketers, including some CMOs, have lost the thread.
Creative that doesn’t solve problems, doesn’t answer questions (looking at you, Crypto category and applauding you, Google Pixel 6) and doesn’t create a persistent connection isn’t worth the :30-:90 seconds it takes to watch, let alone because of the millions of dollars and thousands of hours it takes to create it.
Too many of us confuse tactics with strategy and strategy with goals. In the struggle to be and stay relevant, marketing accelerates its own irrelevance by losing sight of the “who” and “why” that precede the “what” and “how.”
Simon Sinek must be angry.
For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been reading and hearing these not-so-confidence-inspiring statements when marketers have been conducting interviews:
· The CMO of a global brand proudly shared that in recent years they have “learned how to put the customer back first [they] do.” So I wondered what on earth they had been doing when the customer (actual or potential) wasn’t there.
· Another CMO, when asked what advice he would give other marketers, responded, “Don’t forget to tie your marketing goals to business goals.” What, exactly, would marketing be tied to if not these? Another thread lost.
· A brilliant communications planner spoke about having to work behind the scenes to assemble his creative team thinking just as much about the brand audience they create for as your own portfolio. Yet another proof that we have lost the common thread – the why – that drives our actions.
There is a significant difference between missing the target, inevitable as it can be, and missing the point. Clearly the point is being missed, too often by too many, and to negative effect.
how did we get here Well, marketing is difficult, and great marketing is even more difficult. And the thousands of seismic and fundamental shifts — cultural shifts, behavioral changes, new platforms, crumbling cookies, collapsing funnels, media fraud, myopia in measurement, choose your poison — haven’t helped.
But amidst the explosion of data, platforms, means, methods and measurements (etc.) and the fragmentation and decentralization of audiences, we have also lost sight and thread of what endures. we need it back Quickly.
As much as things have changed, two things have not changed.
First, how our brains are wired and work. Second, why people buy. Because no matter how subjective and often unconscious the reasons are, they largely remain the same.
So maybe it’s time for us, this community of marketers, to rethink the basics of marketing. An example? Consider JWT’s 1974 Planning Guide. The truths and premises that girdle 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 foundations could we rediscover and hold on to? Among those most apparent in her absence on Sunday:
· Stand for something true, genuine, sustainable
· Be meaningfully different. Different is better than better in a world of good-enough alternatives (as Amazon data reminds us).
· Create a clear demarcation
· Solve problems; practical or emotional
· Leaning into – or away from – human prejudices and dispositions
Obviously there is more. Many. The brilliant fundamentals of what we do – or at least used to do – before we lost the thread.
Because at the end of the day, whether we’re selling soap operas or business solutions, we’re marketing and selling to people. People whose attention doesn’t guarantee us anything unless we do something when we have it. Work that has conversational value but doesn’t add brand or business value isn’t very valuable at all, is it?
But that’s hard. As any parent (and anyone who has been a child, by the way) knows, it’s difficult to influence attitudes and behavior, even if you do manage to attract attention. (Kid Cudi looks at you Kanye). But it’s impossible if we don’t tie the threads together.
I don’t want to throw stones. That’s why I didn’t mention any names (other than Kanye’s). Because even though I’ve only been at Forbes for two weeks, I’ve been in the C-suite advising them on a career. I am aware of the difficulties involved in moving from goals to insights, ideas, execution and ROI.
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 posts), especially for CMOs.
CMOs whose CEO sometimes doesn’t have the marketing experience and understanding to match their opinion. Or a CFO who is neither penalized for spending less, nor still involved in the myriad of shifts, changes, and decisions that the CMO—and the community of marketers that surrounds and supports them—confronts.
Again, marketing is difficult. Great marketing even harder. But that’s the job, and not least because of that we love the job and the intellectual and creative challenges that come with it on our best days.
I have no illusions that my call for a reassessment of the fundamentals offers groundbreaking insights or bold advice. On the contrary. But it’s not the lament of a Luddite either. It is a plea for keeping things simple in a landscape of great and growing complexity.
Unlike many Sunday ads, I’m not hopelessly nostalgic. But I wonder if the best way to prepare for marketing’s uncertain future is to step back and grasp some of the enduring truths and foundations on which the industry was built.
While the status quo hangs like an albatross around the neck of progress, there are things from the past that are too often ignored in the present that could help make more marketing great. Because in marketing, as in football, as in life, success is best viewed as a consequence and not as a goal.
It is a consequence of what we do and the choices and sacrifices we make – or not. We hope it’s a conversation about these marketing challenges, choices, and sacrifices forbes CMO Network can help facilitate and facilitate. We hope to add even more value to what you all do, from CMO to AAE, by amplifying, convening, and to some extent scaling, the marketing conversations, ideas, people, work, creativity, innovation, and news they need.
This requires us to make choices and sacrifices, and no doubt we will get some of them wrong. We count on you let us know if we do
It’s unlikely we can make marketing less difficult, but maybe together we can make great marketing more often. Maybe together we can make it so that only 70% of brands disappear without anyone noticing.
For the love of great brands, great marketing, and the people that matter, we hope you choose to be an even bigger part of this entertainment—and the forbes CMO community – moving forward.
But that is your choice. It is our job to make your decision easier. It’s never easy, but it’s fundamental.