CMOpinion: Everyone is a marketer, aren’t they? 

Regardless of where you work or what industry you're in, marketing is a topic most people are opinionated about. In her regular Mumbrella column, Bill Identity CMO Diana Di Cecco explores why this is so, and how a marketer navigates the expert phenomenon.

Caveat: If you and I have ever worked (or currently work) together, please note, this column is not about you. Save yourself the dread of reading between imaginary lines and piecing together a story about how it relates to “that time when…” It’s not about you per se. It is, however, a culmination of experience in working for a multitude of businesses, in a variety of industries, with a diverse range of people. Departments and scenarios have been changed to protect anonymity. (And to protect me) 

In two-decades of marketing, I have never witnessed the operations department provide counsel to legal on how to apply legislation to a case. I have never seen the IT department suggest how human resources should manage succession planning. (I did once meet a programmer with a penchant for horticulture and romantic advice but that is a completely different story). Nor have I seen procurement direct the sales team on how to nurture leads. Why is that? Because people are employed to perform a job – their own job. They generally come with experience in a field, which they may have studied for, and are usually busy performing that job as oppose to providing other people advice on how to do theirs. So why is it, at the very hint of marketing activity, someone (or everyone) feels compelled to provide expert feedback? 

Firstly, let’s explore scenarios from common expert types. You will relate to at least one. 

  1. The aspiring creative director

When you’re debating creative with eight non-marketing stakeholders, while discussing the minutia of font type, font size, font colour, background colour, and logos, when that special someone says, “Could we see that moved to the left 3mm?” And although you’d like to say something else (read into that what you will), you respond with, “Sure, I’ll put that into production.” 

  1. The ‘expert’ by default (who heard a professional mention this metric one time)

When you’re forced to share a TV media schedule with a non-marketer and receive a barrage of questions regarding TARPS by someone who doesn’t know what a TARP is. And you’re thinking “I would like to have words with whoever taught you that acronym.” #TargetAudienceRatingPoint 

  1. The nostalgic tactician

This usually comes in the form of senior leadership who has a direct approach – “Why don’t you do a flyer? When I was at <insert former employer>, we used to do flyers all the time and customers loved them! It was a very effective tactic.” You desperately wish it was appropriate to respond in jest that we’re no longer in 1997 but instead, you respectfully explain that flyers are not part of the target audience’s media consumption, to which said expert will either thank you with surprise (that times have changed) or brand you as uncooperative and unwilling to take on feedback. 

(By the way, if you have a favourite expert type, please share it with me – I do enjoy reading typecast scenarios and am certain our readers will have special ones I have missed) 

Why so many opinions? 

There are many reasons why people have a marketing opinion, and its typically based on their perceived knowledge.  

Sometimes, they’ve read a book on the topic.  

Sometimes, they completed a marketing subject 25 years ago.  

Other times, they experience the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a cognitive bias where they overestimate their competence in a certain domain relative to a cohort. This psychological phenomenon is reminiscent of the Australian Open when everyone becomes a tennis expert. Or quadrennially during the World Cup when we become a society of soccer/football aficionados. The practice of overestimation is not exclusive to marketing but we certainly see more of it compared to other business units. 

A more disconcerting reason is that marketing is at times perceived as easy. That we, marketers, indulge in long winded content development, spend hours in Photoshop and most of our day obsessing over social media. It couldn’t be further from the truth. This uneducated view emanates from people who simply don’t know what marketing is.  

Marketing is a craft. It’s the process of understanding customer needs and creating value to deliver on them. It requires an investigative nature of diagnosis, research and strategic prowess to continuously be insight and data driven. From here, an orchestration of segmentation, targeting and positioning is required to establish an ownable market proposition. While balancing the equation of features, benefits and development, marketers diligently determine pricing matrices to optimise commercialisation and create effective distribution. And while deeply developing an integrated approach to communications, they delicately balance a media mix and associated metrics to hit the sweet spot of their target audience. All of this for what? To be more than a commodity and build customer-based brand equity because in the customer’s mind, is the only place a brand really exists. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is the cumulatively impact of the aforementioned aspects that define marketing. Other professions; plumbers, chefs, surgeons, have tools – marketers have tools too, and we use them depending on the customer problem we’re trying to solve. We (the marketing fraternity) are about finding ways to impact customer behaviour while balancing storytelling and numbers. Don’t underestimate us or our craft. It is not easy. 

How to navigate marketing experts

It is a dichotomy that I am at a stage in my career where I can provide counsel on this topic with consideration. Had this been twenty years ago, my thoughts on receiving feedback may have contained prolific language and a well-contemplated eye roll. Thank goodness we all cultivate new territory and these days, I adopt a different approach. Firstly, I realised that marketing experts are everywhere – literally inescapable. Secondly, I don’t take things personally and am not adversely impacted by other people’s opinions. And thirdly, I changed my approach to departmental interest; these days I am flattered and feel privileged that others take an interest in my work stream. So, next time someone graces you with a marketing opinion, consider these ideas before anything else. 

Listen. News flash: you are not the ideas factory. In fact, great ideas can come from anyone and anywhere. So, when someone else has an “idea”, take the time to hear them out. It won’t hurt and it won’t cost you anything but kindness, and you might be pleasantly surprised. While they might be an outlier, I do consider if they’re representative of the customer but my favourite part of listening is then asking why. Why do you think this is a good idea? How did you come up with this? Understanding someone else’s thought process isn’t always ground-breaking but in the moments when something special has been generated, it will be fascinating – it will also make that person’s day. You are not obliged to take on every idea floated; they’re usually a sample size of one, but you should oblige yourself to listen. It doesn’t matter who you are or how important you think you are, showing kindness by listening and giving up your time, is humility everyone can do with more of. 

Allow yourself to be challenged. In fact, invite it. Even the best plan/idea should be challenged, debated and turned on its head. Why? To generate the best possible outcome. In marketing, it doesn’t matter who was right or wrong; all that matters is making the best decisions for the brand. But you must provide the conditions for this to occur. This means examining theories, testing decisions, floating ideas, questioning everything, and being questioned. When these elements transpire, one of two things will happen. You will see a different point of view and it will shape your decision – that’s a win. Or you will validate how the proposed decision is correct and teach your stakeholders a thing or two – also a win. Which is the perfect segue to my last point. 

Turn it into an opportunity. When experts come your way (and you will see it coming – I think marketers can smell it), be prepared to turn it into positive by taking on the role of marketing professor and hopefully schooling someone with a 101. My favourite approach is to educate them in my field and it usually goes something like this; Listen, smile, set the scene, describe the problem, explain the theory, apply it to the scenario, and back it up with data/an example. If you do this properly, in the end, they will have learned something and have a newfound appreciation for the craft (and for you).  

So, maybe everyone is a marketer. Maybe, deep inside, everyone aspires to know more about this fascinating field. Is that so bad? Is it unbearable? I think not. You have a choice about how you deal with experts and manage their interest levels. You could tell them to get lost and create a career limiting move (not recommended), or you could consider reframing your thinking. Here’s a thought; Remember how much you care about the customer? Apply that level of intrigue to the experts because in fact, they are your internal customer. Get to know them, listen, and teach them. There is no better time for the equity of your personal brand as a marketer to shine through. Take a deep breath, stare them directly in the eyes, smile, and take the stage. It’s yours. 

Diana Di Cecco is the CMO of Bill Identity. CMOpinion is a regular Mumbrella column.


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