Sherilyn Shackell: Marketers should hire for character and train for skills

There is a much quoted definition used by the Chartered Institute of Marketing: ‘’Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” This might be true but quite apart from the utter blandness of the sentence, it’s certainly not the entire picture. Not any more.

In my opinion, it diminishes the unlimited power and potential impact that marketing can make. Of course, marketing can, ultimately, sell stuff – which is arguably the point – but in today’s society great marketing has the potential to transform lives, open up unlimited possibilities, provoke debate, make change happen, create movements, unlock imagination, entice action and shape minds.

So should marketing and therefore the role of marketing leaders be redefined?

There is no function other than marketing that has the power to influence how people think and feel, the choices they take, the decisions they make. And as leadership is about influence, isn’t marketing the embodiment and utilisation of the best leadership principles?

One of my favourite quotes is: “If your actions inspire people to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, then you are a leader.” So, how about this for a definition of marketing: if your actions influence and inspire people to make choices and decisions that truly enhance their lives in a positive way, then you are a marketing leader.

At the Sydney Opera House last year, the Marketing Academy hosted a lecture by Dr Simon Longstaff, founder of The Ethics Centre. He delivered a provocative lecture about the power of marketing. He talked about the fact that the strategic insight and creative skills of people working in marketing and advertising are tools that have the capacity to be harnessed for good, for ill or for the mundane. He explored how such abilities can be put to use in a world in which value is increasingly vested in what an organisation means, rather than what it says and does.

What an organisation stands for and the impact it makes on the world are as important as the products it makes or services it provides. And the route to communicate this, to spread the message and to engage hearts and minds is via marketing.

Ultimately, the beliefs we hold as humans dictate the behaviours we demonstrate. In the same way that putting lipstick on a pig will not disguise the fact that it is in fact a pig (it’ll just look stupid), hiring just anyone into the role of a marketer will not result in exceptional marketing output.

We need to build our teams with the inherent characteristics that our powerful function deserves. We should indeed ‘hire for character and train for skills’. If marketing bosses focus on building their leadership capability, take a few risks, push the boundaries and hire people who are honourable, authentic, courageous, entrepreneurial, creative, passionate, disciplined, energetic and curious they won’t fail to create their greatest work.

So, reduce the art of marketing to a management process or celebrate it as the means to create a positive and profound impact on the world we live in? You decide.

Sherilyn Shackell

Founder & CEO of The Marketing Academy

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