Where to next for the marketing profession? 3 observations

First, a confession: mine was not a marketing degree and I have never been responsible for a marketing campaign. Instead, in my time as a product manager I worked alongside marketers within a marketing function and, more recently, as a behavioural specialist I have worked with marketers to increase conversion through behavioural economics. I guess you could call me a ‘little m’ marketer.

You can say then, that I have been watching the marketing profession from the house next door. Seeing who comes and goes, who renovates and who lets their house run down.

My observations I share in the hope they stimulate rage. Rage against how the profession is perceived and rage against being short changed in how you can better do your job.

Observation 1: Marketers are data drunk

The life of a marketer has radically changed in the last decade, from relying on research, cumbersome segmentation models and buying lists to shaping interactions with consumers to extract their data directly.

From any theorists point of view, businesses now have the resources, smarts and justification to reconcile all this data into a meaningful, insightful source of certainty. I mean, you’d be crazy not to. And that’s why so much money is being thrown at ‘single-customer view’ and integrated management systems.

But to my eye, no one seems short of data, everyone seems short of answers.  The data that is available is not providing a clear path on what marketers should do to get their buyers to take action. While it may give a picture of what people have done, it always falls short of answering ‘what will they do?’ and that’s what marketers need to know most.

Observation 2: Marketers guess

Despite all the data floating around and the theoretical frameworks of how marketing can be effective, at the end of the day, at the coalface where the marketing campaign meets its market, marketers have to guess. Why? Because marketers are in the business of influencing people, and humans don’t come with a ‘how to’ manual.

Until now, marketers have had to rely on guesswork. Educated guesswork,  but guesswork nonetheless. After all, if we weren’t guessing, we’d be able to go to market every time knowing exactly what would happen. If only!

And the need to guess I think has impacted the credibility of the profession.  Along with HR practitioners, marketers have been tagged as dealing in ‘soft skills’ and as a result, struggled to gain boardroom gravitas.

The perversity of this is that ‘soft skills’ are the hardest of all. Try being an accountant without access to a whole battery of codified standards that defines the outcome of your input.

Well, I think it’s time for marketers to find a way to eliminate guesswork and in so doing, stamp their authority on the science of ‘soft skills’. And the good news is the way to do this already exists.

Observation 3: Marketers spin plates

Marketers have become slaves to meeting culture, and through this, become order takers rather than order makers. Running from meeting to meeting, juggling budgets and stakeholder expectations, the life of a marketer has become reactive and problem solving rather than proactive and value generating. A lot of plates have to be spun, leaving no time or intellectual capacity to pave the way forward. Let’s not kid ourselves – marketing is fast becoming an administrative rather than creative endeavour. How depressing. Surely that’s not why we work in marketing?

Then why do I see most of the thinking outsourced to creative agencies? Why do I see marketers in the corporate sector brief a campaign and then rely on the agency to do the mental grunt work? And why do marketers not demand from their agencies an explanation of why their solution will impact the behaviour of the market? If you are relying on someone to do your thinking, at least have them explain it.

To my mind marketers are leaving themselves open to poor results because they themselves are not owners of the knowledge about what makes people behave the way they do. Rather than being experts in human behaviour, marketers seem to be deferring to others and cloaking themselves in busyness.

Well, maybe we’ve been spinning plates because an alternative has not been evident? Until now.

The new age of marketing

So what do I see when I look from the house next door? I see a new age of marketing emerging. Guesswork will be replaced by answers, opinion by science. Marketers will be the leaders in behavioural knowledge because they will have to be to generate value. They will lead their businesses in shaping results because no one knows better than they that everything in business – absolutely everything – has a behavioural basis.

The new age is here and it is available to you in the form of behavioural economics, your ‘how-to’ guide for human behaviour. It presents you with science-based answers on why people behave and expectations of how they will. If your agencies are using it, ask them how. If they’re not, ask them why.  If my observations from next door have enraged, then simply let me say this: don’t get even, get answers.


Bri Williams
BY Bri Williams ON 19 October 2012
Bri Williams, a specialist in buying behaviour, helps businesses increase sales and marketing conversion through behavioural science. Follow Bri @peoplepatterns or visit peoplepatterns.com.au