Leading consumer behaviour expert Mark Earls
Leading consumer behaviour expert Mark Earls
A view from Mark Earls

Cultural shifters: Mark Earls on why marketers must show that their work actually matters

As part of our inaugural Marketing New Thinking Awards in partnership with Sky Media, consumer behaviour expert and author Mark 'Herdmeister' Earls, who is a member of the awards judging panel, examines Cultural Shift - one of our 12 categories. The final deadline for entries is Friday 24 July.

Members of the general public use 'marketing' as an all-purpose place-holder for the ills of business practice at large

Out in the real world, there are only a handful of professions and industries that the public rate lower than marketing.

Advertising, maybe; drug-dealing, probably (depending on how you spend your ill-gottens); armaments, possibly; estate agents, definitely! All too often the word "marketing" is used by the average citizen to refer to the insubstantial fluff - the superficial stuff that companies use to justify a product’s higher price.

Equally, it can be used to mean the dodgier end of sales practice (flattering photography that makes a measly portion size look like a feast) and the whole bunch of tricks that we think are clever and they see through (with experience, if not immediately). You know, the kind of thing that makes marketers seem like magicians (if not sleight-of-hand merchants) to politicians, in particular.

More Marvo the Magnificent than Merlin. (Or is it the other way round?) Fair or not, many members of the general public use 'marketing' as an all-purpose place-holder for the ills of business practice at large. Unfairly, we get blamed for the deeds of our colleagues elsewhere in the business - for mis-selling, for poor customer service, for obesity and for making people unhappy.

The same marketing brush

Which is particularly hurtful when you consider how those same colleagues whose actions we are being blamed for can themselves view us: the product people, the sales team, the tech team and the c-suite all too easily drop into viewing marketing and marketing people as a peculiarly untalented bunch of flower arrangers (something which the advent of Twitter and dogma such as 'the brand as publisher' hasn’t exactly countered).

A function that is largely irrelevant to the real work of business. To be fair, there have been many initiatives over recent years to overcome the internal views of marketing and marketers.

For example, the IPA’s ongoing commitment to demonstrating the effectiveness of marketing communication - not just advertising - continues to try to make the case for the financial value of advertising; the Marketing Society Effectiveness Awards do a similar thing and its 'Marketing for Good' drive acknowledges this reputational deficit (real or imagined, fair or unfair).

Beyond the walls of our profession, organisations like Friends of the Earth are keen to help marketers establish and share best practice in sustainable marketing and a number of high profile marketers are involved in this, too.

Why your work matters

So when marketing can demonstrate it is having an impact on our broader culture and the way we live our lives - not just in some happy-clappy way, but with real commercial intent - then we should be championing the team and the brand that does it. That’s why it’s so important that the Marketing New Thinking awards include a category for 'Cultural Shift'.

My father was taught that marketing has a primary duty to change how organisations work

Yes, your work should be inspiring, engage the broader population and capture the zeitgiest - all laudable ambitions - but here’s the thing: in this category you are being asked to explain why your work matters.

Why your work matters? When was the last time a marketer was able to answer that question? My father was one of the idealistic early converts to marketing, way back in the 60s. He was taught that marketing has a primary duty to change how organisations work - to focus them on what matters to consumers and customers beyond the factory gates.

Now long retired and in his 80s, he might well feel disappointed that we haven’t done enough to prove this. I know that there’s lots of good stuff going out there. Please enter and tell us why your work matters.

Find out more about the Marketing New Thinking Awards and how to enter