Breaking news: Business owners don’t trust marketing firms.

Breaking news: Business owners don’t trust marketing firms.

Recent research concludes that the majority of business leaders feel that their marketing department and marketing consultants lack the business acumen to accurately translate a suitable ROI given the dollars allocated to generating sufficient consumer demand.  On the flip side, most marketing directors or consulting firms feel that their efforts are worth every penny…and then some.  It’s a classic disconnect between the two sides.  Business owners are responsible for top and bottom line growth.  Marketers don’t typically speak the language of a P&L and are always asking for more money without the guarantee of demonstrated return.  Yet one cannot live without the other, resulting in a tense symbiosis.  London based research team The Fournaise Group concludes that:

 “73% of CEOs think Marketers lack business credibility and are not effectiveness-focused enough to generate incremental customer demand, 69% of the Marketers Fournaise talked to feel their strategies and campaigns do make an impact on the company’s business, even though they can’t precisely quantify or prove it – confirming the great CEO-Marketers disconnect.”

Ouch.

Compounding this disconnect is the obvious fact that traditional advertising is a dying star.  Legacy media’s precipitous death swoon only exacerbates the management-marketing disconnect as too many ad agencies continue to cling to the idea that linear “blast” messaging bears any lasting significant relevance on today’s consumer.  Which is doesn’t.  Which is why they’re always asking for more money.  It’s an unsustainable model.  It’s always degenerating.  To that extent many marketing managers or consulting firms are feeling a bit of the “chicken come home to roost” backlash after continually asking for increased funding for zombie media.  Businesses are living in a world in which, as HBR blogger Bill Lee notes:

” buyers are no longer paying much attention. Several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer’s decision journey,” traditional marketing communications just aren’t relevant. Buyers arechecking out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet, and often from sources outside the firm such as word-of-mouth or customer reviews”

Marketing firms that fail to recognize this seismic shift in consumer patters will fall prey to their own poor planning.  It’s become impossible to look a client in the face and say, candidly, “let’s build your brand around print.”  It just smacks of bullshit.  Instead, marketing firms must redirect their messaging and campaign strategies around a circular consumer interest model–one that is at best marginally influenced by promotions, cash incentives, and other carrots–by designing messaging around community, influence, and connected sharing.

Obviously the rise of digital communities has deepened the mandate placed on marketing firms to ensure that brand positioning and product positioning are fundamentally meaningful to the target consumers.  This is tough in an era in which nearly 7 out of 10 consumers insist that they’d just as soon prefer that “brands” disappear because they don’t significantly improve their quality of life.  Havas Media Lab has conducted extensive research on the topic of “Meaningful Brands” as they pertain to a community audience.  Their conclusion: Product messaging should weigh heavily on improving the quality of the end users life rather than the one-off promotion or cash incentive.  The latter two being highly commoditized and temporary.  Designing a meaning-based marketing program means that the ways in which the product is promoted generate interest for substantial, long-term benefits.

Not every customer has the same influence within her community.  And these folks are typically viewed by their peer group and digital community as reliable, trustworthy hubs of information or recommendations.  New era marketing firms understand that blasting a message to 10,000 people that may or may not be true influencers is less effective than targeting and maintaining contact with 100 highly influential individuals.  Yes, it requires additional leg work to determine who these influencers are and how they connect and share information.  But we’ve never had better access to tools and resources to help accomplish this goal.  We can finally find the folks that move the needle and align messaging around their lifestyles.

Regarding connected sharing, Bill Lee argues that:

” you’re not likely to go looking for a salesperson to talk to, or to read through a bunch of corporate website content. Instead, you’ll probably ask neighbors or friends — your peer network — what or whom they’re using.

Companies should position their social media efforts to replicate as much as possible this community-oriented buying experience.”

It’s never been easier to develop vital digital communities through which product and purchase information can move in an instant.  Cut-and-paste social sharing, however, is badly received.  Smart marketing companies will encourage a sharing strategy that humanizes a company, encourages reciprocal sharing, and rewards key influencers as needed.  

It’s not surprising that business leaders don’t trust marketers or marketing firms.  But I’m left to believe that its the marketers fault for not effectively communicating their strategies to stay one step ahead of the game and justify their budget demands.  I’ve never met a business owner who didn’t fully understand that there’s no guarantee when it comes to spending money on lead generation.  I have, however, met hundreds of business owners that know when they’re being snowed by an ad man.    Letting go of tried-and-true media can be hard.  But as the research clearly indicates, business owners are growing intolerant of their marketing partners constant requests for increased funding to be spent on antique forms of lead generation.  As rapidly as things are changing, who can blame them?

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