Anyone can be a marketer

Is there a profession with lower perceived barriers to entry than marketing? Accountants are shielded by accounting standards and mysterious debits and credits. Sales people are shielded by most of us, frankly, not wanting to face up to so much rejection. Engineers, teachers, architects, doctors, lawyers – most professions have qualifications that prevent the unqualified from thinking they can practise with any authority. And yet everyone thinks they can be a marketer. Why?


Being human is qualification enough

As consumers people become familiar with marketing, forming opinions on what they like and do not and because these thoughts seem valid to them, they are prone to thinking they will be just as valid for others. In a sense, simply being human with an opinion becomes qualification enough.


Opinion based expertise

With outputs generated from what is by in large a creative field, marketing relies heavily on intangibles such as experience and (well informed) opinion to advocate its position.

The problem when relying on subjective criteria is that the marketer’s opinion is at the mercy of the opinions of others. A more senior stakeholder’s novice opinion can end up holding sway because marketers simply lack the firepower to extinguish such interference.

Not only does this end up compromising the work, it undermines the marketing profession’s credibility. As Ogilvy’s vice chairman Rory Sutherland said, a CFO doesn’t have their work scrutinised by the CMO, so why is it that everyone thinks they have the right to scrutinise the work of a marketing team?


A profession without real authority

While measurement and data have gone a long way to helping marketers justify campaign spend, execution of a creative still seems to be at the mercy of opinion.

In my view marketers should be thumping on the table and telling stakeholders that their well intended opinion is not relevant. They should be telling novices to back off and stick to their domain of expertise.

But they can’t. Not yet.

Until marketers can bring substance beyond opinion to the discussion, the profession will struggle for real authority.


Behavioural science is there for the taking, so what’s the hold up?

What surprises me most about marketers is that all the tools are available to finally solidify the profession’s authority as the expert in behaviour change, and yet uptake has been slow. Fields from the behavioural sciences like behavioural economics are exactly what every marketer should be using to advocate their position – to inform and to justify opinions about creative executions so that stakeholders can do little but nod and agree.

So if the answers are right there, where might this reticence to draw on behavioural science come from?


Ignorance, arrogance or fear?

Perhaps marketers are reticent because they simply don’t know about the power of behavioural science, or if they do, don’t know how to use it. This can be easily fixed through education.

Or perhaps marketers think they already know everything about how to influence behaviour. If that is the case, then help me understand why conversion is often so low and/or campaigns may work once but not on a consistent basis?

Most likely I think reticence stems from a fear marketers have of admitting they don’t already have all the answers. According to Think Like a Freak authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the hardest three words to say are ‘I don’t know’, and when you are being paid to be the expert, admitting this can feel risky.

Perversely enough however, where an accountant might admit to not having the answer and not lose any credibility in researching further, marketers who have to deal with the complexity of human behaviour are loath to do likewise. When looking up a tax ruling is much more straightforward than working out how to influence people’s behaviour, why should any marketer feel awkward about admitting this?

My guess is it goes back to everyone thinking they can be a marketer. By admitting they don’t have an answer, the marketer opens up a void that will all too quickly be filled by novice opinion.


Elevating the marketing profession

The unfortunate by-product of this is the marketing profession can come across to outsiders as defensive, and no wonder. When everyone thinks they can do your job it’s hard not to push back. But without sufficient substance, pushing back can seem territorial and trite rather than authoritative and justified.

The answer to all this – to marketers raising the barriers to their profession, their credibility and authority – lies in embracing behavioural science as their domain. Just as accountants have accounting standards to shape what they do, marketers have the behavioural sciences. I want to see the day when people regard marketers with the same awe as they do surgeons, when the profession is esteemed for its ability to shape behaviour using science based techniques, when giving an opinion about a campaign is as pointless as an opinion on a general ledger entry and when finally, not just anyone thinks they can be a marketer.


Bri Williams
BY Bri Williams ON 11 June 2014
Bri Williams, a specialist in buying behaviour, helps businesses increase sales and marketing conversion through behavioural science. Follow Bri @peoplepatterns or visit