Jennifer Woollford
Nov 19, 2021

The lost generation in marketing

By valuing new and shiny skills over core strategic skills, the marketing industry is missing out on opportunities to develop the next generation of strategic marketers.

Short-term gratification: Are CMOs like children in an ever-growing candy store? (Shutterstock)
Short-term gratification: Are CMOs like children in an ever-growing candy store? (Shutterstock)
"We’re going to lose an entire generation of marketers, because many leaders see marketing as just digital or social and don’t see marketing as the whole 360 degrees based on consumer insights."
Erica Kerner, SVP marketing strategy and partnerships, ONE Championship

How have we got here?

We spoke to over 30 CMOs, globally and across APAC (see "Asia-Pacific CMOs struggle to align staff with new marketing challenges"), and the message was loud and clear on the future marketing organisations they want to build: strategic, customer-focused, influencing business agendas and impacting corporate goals. We heard unanimously that marketers have become too focused on fast-paced execution. They're spreading themselves thin, caught in a downpour of data. Concern was evident that the marketing leaders of the future aren’t exposed to enough opportunities to build core strategic skills.

The fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed. Understanding your potential customers to decide who you want to target. Determining how you are relevant to them. Developing and positioning your offer accordingly. Establishing what you need to deliver to meet business goals. How you can achieve it with the resources you have. And what you’re going to track and measure so you know whether your strategy is working.

The next part—the what, the tactics, the execution, the social media, the content, the influencers, the distribution channels, the partnership opportunities—that’s where things are getting increasingly cluttered. The boundaries are blurring on what marketing is responsible for, challenging us on whether we’re staying relevant and keeping up to speed on the latest skills. Being a marketing manager today is like standing in the middle of a sweet shop that keeps getting bigger and bigger with more enticing, new and different things that we could be trying, that might just taste better than the last. We are overwhelmed with possibility.

Add instant gratification into the mix. The opportunity to find out, almost immediately, whether what we did worked. Not enough engagement? Change the key visual. Not enough clickthroughs?Change the channel. Not enough views? Change the message. We risk being so busy chasing short-term metrics that we’re missing the ultimate goal. For marketing to drive business revenue, profit and purpose. 

“There has been a systematic build-up of myopia in a marketer’s job," shared Rupen Desai, global CMO of Dole Sunshine, one of those we interviewed. "Unless the short-term thinking is balanced with a long-term strategic view, the role will continue to get downgraded in its ability to impact.” 

We are standing on the edge of a precipice in marketing. If that sounds dramatic, here’s the hard facts.

The recently published Better Briefs project surveyed over 1700 respondents from 70 countries and found that 78% of marketers believe they write briefs that provide clear strategic direction. But how many creative agencies said the briefs their clients write provide them with clear strategic direction? Just 5%. In case you’re skim reading, here it is again: 5% of marketers are providing clear strategic direction.

I’m not here to fly the flag for agencies, nor do I believe that if we could wave a strategic wand and step-change the quality of the briefs it would single-handedly transform the executional clutter we’re surrounded by. But we could reduce enormous waste by equipping marketers with the time and skills to develop sound strategies that provide clear focus and direction. 

A couple of weeks ago we briefed an agency on behalf of a brand for which we’d developed a market-entry and positioning strategy. The agency shared with the client that it was “one of the most thoughtful and precise briefs we’ve received in years”. Lovely feedback for us, but shocking to hear.  We’re not the gods of marketing briefs. We simply worked with a brand owner who was willing to invest a few weeks and a bit of money into understanding the market, figuring out which consumers to target, and then talking to those consumers to understand how to be relevant and appealing to them. 

Next up. Training. When was the last time you received training, or provided training for your team on marketing strategy? I’m not talking about digital strategy, or content strategy, or any other marketing channels or tactics with the word 'strategy' tacked on. I’m talking about marketing strategy (hopefully by now it’s clear what I mean by that).

Mark Ritson’s mini-MBA in marketing costs US$2000.  By the end of this year around 20,000 people will have completed the course since its inception in 2016. Alumni come from 86 countries. Less than 2% of those have come from Asia. Forgive me for the repetition: less than 2%.

Again, completing 10 training modules isn’t going to suddenly turn marketers into respected business advisors. But it will help build confidence in developing strategies, engaging with stakeholders in the business to gain support for what they are doing and why, and stepping off the executional hamster wheel. 

The CMOs we spoke to were clear. As an industry we risk losing the skill of marketing strategy and organisational impact that feeds great execution and business outcomes. Whether you’re a CEO or a current marketing leader—or aspiring to become so—ignore this at your peril.   

Jennifer Woollford is the founder of Neon Leaders, an open talent community of strategic, independent marketing leaders. 

Campaign Asia

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