The perils of non-marketing folk doing a marketing job

January 2014

Come July of this year, I’d have been in the marketing game for 40 years – a figure which perhaps exceeds your years on this planet. It is a long time. In fact a very long time, and one which, I don’t mind telling you, is a tad scary to fully come to terms with. But anyway, I’m still here and spend much of my spare time endeavouring to keep up with a digital world which doesn’t even stand still for a day (literally).

With the latter point in mind and with the former to reflect on, it recently struck me just why I get so grumpy with so many of the individuals and companies I deal with for specialist digital services – most notably SEO and social media. So the problem is this…

Up until the digital age – and in fact well into it – the fact was that pretty much anyone you dealt with for marketing services had marketing DNA in their blood. Need a TV or radio ad? You’d be dealing with marketing people. Need an exhibition stand at a trade show? You’d be dealing with marketing people. Need a press ad designing? You’d be dealing with marketing people.

But digital has changed this, because the people I often deal with for digital services are no more marketing folk than the farmer down the road from me is. So why does that matter? It matters because marketing folk do what they do because they’re driven by what the outcome of their actions will hopefully be. Digital folk, however, do what they do because the task they’re carrying out is the end game – not the beautiful, money-making end result for the client that the marketer sees.

Digital has spawned a host of specialist disciplines, including some with a non-digital tradition – e.g. video production. In the case of this example, the digital world – and specifically search engine optimisation – has meant that video now commands huge importance in the majority of marketing strategies. Which is fine and all makes sense, but most of the folk producing relatively low budget videos for SMEs haven’t a clue what the end game is. So they don’t see the product of their work as increasing sales and this through improved organic ranking, site engagement and increased brand saliency, what they see is some sort of self-indulgent, arty-farty visual wonder.

And back to the pure digital folk, for them a day at a keyboard entering code, creating links, adding alt tags to images and working on key phrase research and analysis IS the job, with little or no thought about the commercial value it must ultimately drive for the client.

Of course I’m exaggerating the scale of the problem, and yes there are plenty of individuals working in digital, video and other disciplines who entirely get that they’re in the marketing game. But the fact is that it isn’t the norm, and the principle driver for the problem is in leadership – and the working culture that flows from it – in companies whose roots aren’t in marketing, or they’re a relatively recent start-up since the digital revolution hit us.

These non-marketers survive because, certainly for SMEs, the client doesn’t know any better or is afraid to jump ship (often because of the cloak of mystery surrounding the ever-changing digital world and all confusing the acronyms it spawns). For my clients though and where I’m directly working with the supplier of services, I’m taking a rather firmer line. And I’m doing this because a) it means my client gets better value for money from their (marketing) supplier, and b) if I can influence the supplier to take on board that they’re actually in the marketing game and therefore they adopt an appropriate attitude which reflects this, well this then makes me less grumpy – and at my age that’s no bad thing.

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