Russell Parsons: Stop the negativity and remember you’re a value creator

Marketers rightly seek more accountability, but they shouldn’t be ashamed of marketing’s commercial role or denigrate its substantial contribution to businesses’ understanding of their customers.

Last month, TV marketing body Thinkbox hosted an event to unveil a piece of research that set out to deliver “the business case for advertising”. It is a substantial piece of work and stands apart from other studies determining return on marketing investment because of its breadth (it analyses more than 2,000 campaigns across 11 vertical sectors) and its focus on short- and long-term profit rather than sales or revenue spikes.

Within, there are several eye-catching findings that should make every marketer pause to assess their media strategy. Chief among these is the ability to generate sustainable and meaningful return demonstrated by channels considered all but dead by some millennial marketers and their media planning peers.

There is one unarguable fact that everyone brand- and agency-side should be shouting loudly at every opportunity: advertising delivers what every company strives for – profit. As edifying as this is, it’s remarkable that this case needs to be made in 2017, after decades of campaigns that resurrected brands and put them on the road to household status; and of marketing-led transformation that has propelled countless products and services to category leadership. But it does.

The study, commissioned by Thinkbox but carried out by Ebiquity and Gain Theory, is aimed as much at those outside the ecosystem as inside, to try to correct the impulses of finance directors eying short-term tactical executions without considering the virtues of long-term brand execution – or worse, writing off all marketing investment as discretionary. However, as the year draws to a close and we look forward to 2018, marketers too need to be reminded of the value of their efforts.

Why, in the face of so much evidence of its contribution, is the marketing universe so disconsolate about what is does?

A gloom seems to have descended over the marketing ecosystem of late. The constant round of downward revisions to key indicators of economic health, coupled with Brexit uncertainty, has taken its toll – but it runs deeper. There’s a weariness among you, it seems. A recent poll of CMOs and CFOs by The Centre for Brand Analysis on behalf of agency Cubo found that just 37% believe marketing can protect their business from the vagaries of market upheaval and almost half (46%) don’t think their work has helped protect their brand.

The general malaise about the value of advertising and the impact of marketing was summed up nicely in a tweet from Diageo’s head of digital media partnerships Jerry Daykin recently: “Print is dead, radio is dead, TV is dead, now perhaps digital is dead? And everyone hates/ignores/skips everything we make? There is no industry in the world so dedicated to rubbishing its own output as much as marketing.”

Why, in the face of so much evidence of its contribution, is the marketing universe so disconsolate about what is does? It’s far from universal, but there is acceptance-cum-defeatism that marketing-weary millennials in particular have zero tolerance for advertising; that they have no time for a brand simply selling stuff and not offering a worthy contribution to societal ills.

Elsewhere, an obsession with attribution means efficiency is beginning to trump effectiveness. There’s enough data available that anyone with a grasp of Excel can show you something has worked. But such a mechanical approach takes away from a wider appreciation of what’s right for a brand and ultimately diminishes the appreciation of marketing among all stakeholders, including those whose day job is brand building.

Among our new-year predictions is that we will see the rise and rise of the effective marketer and the end of marketing as the ‘colouring-in department’. There is still much to do for those in marketing to confine this moniker to history. Prioritising insight over data, demonstration of meaningful effectiveness and a grown up business approach to growth generation are just a few of the challenges.

Equal to them, though, is ending the defeatism that is at risk of pervading all in the marketing world. There was much that Mark Ritson and Byron Sharp disagreed on in their landmark debate at The Festival of Marketing in October but they agreed on this: the emphasis on brand purpose is illustrative of how marketers have become apologetic about what they do.

As we enter the new year, remember this: there is a mountain of evidence that demonstrates that there is immense business value in understanding and serving customers. Let that send you into next year with a spring in your step.

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