Marketing’s opportunity is huge, marketers just need to believe

Confidence in business and marketing is returning. Now it’s time for marketers to realise their own potential.

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To state the bleedin’ obvious – the last two years have been mightily disruptive. Two years ago, many of you would have been reduced to expletive strewn incredulity on regular occasions, a state that developed into shades of optimism and despair in 2021.

After the ‘WTF’ of 2020 and the ‘Enough already’ of 2021, I sense collective resolve to think about ‘What’s next?’ in 2022.

There are still plenty of macro-economic challenges to face up to but with the threat of Omicron fading, a feeling that might have seemed like a thing of the past is returning – optimism.

Forecasts for advertising and marketing spend this year show an upward trajectory and return to pre-pandemic levels. Data from our 2022 Career & Salary Survey (more of which next week) paints a picture of marketing’s reputation and role returning to where it should be – with a huge chunk of respondents reporting a greater strategic role and depth of appreciation. More confident companies are putting greater faith in marketing and marketers as a growth driver.

It’s not just strategic nous or creative excellence that should fill marketers with a sense of what’s possible. What you do does make a difference beyond your company.

Marketers must now match the faith put in them with faith in themselves.

Before I joined Marketing Week in 2009, pretty much the only thing I knew about marketing was it was manipulative and wrong. ‘A cynical marketing ploy’ was the conclusion many reached when analysing the motivations of a brand that had the audacity to stand out. Likewise, righteous artists would deride marketers for – shock horror – finding out what customers want. Add the searing dismissal of marketers from the likes of the late comedian Bill Hicks and perception of the industry wasn’t great.

This has fed through to the way some marketers see themselves too. In the wake of the financial crash, and the internet fuelled awareness of corporate malpractice, some have become a little queasy about what they do. The purpose debate is for another time and column, but in pursuit of justification they and their peers are not cynical or manipulative, many have perhaps forgotten what it is marketing and marketers are capable of.

There are decades of marketing-led achievement to be proud of and inspired by. From the Clubcard-aided transformation of Tesco, to the advertising inspired turnaround of Levi’s, there are lots of case studies in what’s possible.

The golden age didn’t end in the 90s. I have seen a panoply of examples in my time as editor of marketing-led success. From the turnaround in Direct Line’s fortunes led by the 360 ‘The Fixer’ initiative to the segmentation savvy of Pets at Home, there is plenty of illustration of the contribution marketers can make.

Seize the opportunity

It’s not just strategic nous or creative excellence that should fill marketers with a sense of what’s possible. What you do does make a difference beyond your company.

I defer to what Byron Sharp said during the Festival of Marketing in October. Marketers should have a little more belief in the good marketing does in the world and that includes the contribution it makes to the economy. Marketing generates demand, which boosts profitability (or should), creating jobs and income from taxes that contributes to the health of nations.

A poll from the Chartered Institute of Marketing released towards the back end of 2021 found 90% of marketers believe marketing has a “key role to play in the UK’s economic recovery”, up from 85% in 2019. It’s great more marketers believe they have a part to play, but what did the 15% in 2019, and 10% who answered in 2021, think was the purpose of marketing?

The opportunity for marketing and marketers has always been there. In many ways, it is apparent now more than ever. The pandemic hasn’t changed the job of marketing. Its purpose – identifying and satisfying customer needs in a profitable way – is the same as it ever was. As is the measure of success, serving the company by delivering for customers.

Context has and is changing, and not just in wake of Covid-19. Whether it is understanding evolving expectations and online habits, or helping people realise their growing desire to be more sustainable, the role marketers enjoy in being the customer’s voice is crucial.

There’s plenty to fix, of course. The obsession with meaningless marketing metrics; the dearth of qualifications and training; lack of diversity among practitioners; tactification, the seduction of technology and how to grow sustainably are just a few items on the to-do list. Issues Marketing Week will continue to scrutinise. But that shouldn’t detract from marketing’s undoubted power to transform businesses.

Over the coming weeks, we will be running a series of columns from people in marketing and beyond, offering their own perspective on what marketing’s opportunity is and how it can be realised. We will also showcase stories of transformation from categories and sectors seldom explored. At the first Festival of Marketing of 2022 in March we will be providing further illustration of what’s working and what you can learn from others’ success.

In the meantime, join me in celebrating all marketing is and can be. Call it giddy, new year haze, but there’s plenty to be optimistic about and proud of. Embrace what you do, and how it contributes to the success of your organisation, its profitability and the economy.

The Power to Transform



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