I have a client who has moved wholesale to a Byron Sharp way of thinking about the world. Creating consistency in how they communicate and working out what distinctive assets they have.
They work for a progressive business, which invests in top marketing people. When you walk into its marketing department, you can see the awards on the filing cabinets. These people know what they’re doing.
But the pressure is building. Because other people in the organisation are impatiently asking why the sales aren’t going up yet. After just a few months. They’re drumming their fingers on the boardroom table impatiently waiting for the signal to increase production. It has not happened yet (because, just a few months, right?), so marketing is pushed on to the defensive.
Marketing isn’t here to drive short-term sales. It’s not here to bank profit this year. It’s here to build brands. As an end itself.
What we tend to do at this point is lose the entire argument by searching for short-term sales uplifts to buy time.
The only way to keep the chief financial officer off our back is to pander to their shorttermism and claim some immediate sales effect. But what if we stood our ground? What if we said the thing that none of us are allowed to say?
Marketing isn’t here to drive short-term sales. It’s not here to bank profit this year. It’s here to build brands. As an end itself. This point of view has been well accepted for some periods in the recent past but is again under attack.
Marketing people tend to be eager to please so, at this stage, rather than challenging the premise, we gleefully submit to other disciplines’ definitions of what we do, in an attempt to get them to like and respect us.
Our effectiveness awards schemes, whether the IPA or The Marketing Society, award those cases that can be proven to have created profit ROI, those shown to have driven a direct sales effect.
With their hunger for novelty and annual or biannual cycles, they tend to reward the short term – we did this last year and then sales went up. Before we decided to grasp at this perceived source of credibility, we might have spent some time considering the wide range of factors that actually affect sales and profit, most of which are totally beyond the remit or control of marketing.
Claiming responsibility when the stars align in our favour is perhaps unwise, as it also involves being responsible when these uncontrollable factors go against us.
What we do is very simple and very direct (although not at all easy). We build brands. Building brands takes time but then delivers huge value over the long term. Great brands create the potential for the rest of the company to deliver profitable sales.
The total financial performance of the business is everyone’s ultimate metric, but marketing loses more credibility than it gains by claiming responsibility for it.
The rise of Facebook and Google has made things harder. Their vast corporate value buys them credibility with our bosses, but the stories they tell about marketing do us no favours.
The vast majority of their case studies talk about short-term uplifts, whether in direct sales or brand awareness. This has very little to do with the majority of the value that marketing can create for businesses, through building brands that have long-term effects.
As marketing tools, they will obviously be playing a role in creating this long-term value, but that’s not the story they choose to tell.
Marketing can deliver short-term sales. We all know how to do it. Direct sales communication, price promotions, paying for extra display space in retail. But when you run the numbers, you tend to find that most of these uplifts just involve bringing forward a purchase that would have happened later anyway (and getting less revenue from it).
The true value we offer is in the long term. It’s well-documented (Les Binet and Peter Field, Sharp) and enables the businesses we work for to prosper over time. But, at the moment, we’re losing this battle to define who we are.
The value and success of marketing in the future will not be governed by digital vs analogue or culture vs collateral or Facebook vs Google. Instead, it will be driven by the extent to which we are willing to stand up for the long term. To put in the work to create a clear argument with very simple metrics. And to resist claiming others’ success for our own.
Craig Mawdsley is the joint chief strategy officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.