Why marketing today takes courage

marketing courage

I recently spent a few days with the CMO of a well-known company in Denmark. I filled his head with a vision of what was both necessary and possible in this new world of digital marketing and he turned to me with a serious look on his face.

“This is going to be difficult, isn’t it?” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“To take advantage of these opportunities … I’m not sure we have the right organization, the right people, the right skills to make this change. To succeed, it’s going to take a lot of courage, isn’t it?”

I had not thought about it quite that way before, but my friend is right. Leading marketing transformation is going to take some guts. It means moving from

  • What we have done versus what we need to do
  • What we have permission to do, versus what the market requires us to do
  • Using available resources versus creating the optimal team for now
  • Creating a budget based on “what we did last year” to funding focused on breakthroughs

I think another reason we need courage is that many times we have to make an uncertain move because business requires so much speed matters today.

We just can’t hesitate … and we don’t always know what we’re getting into. Marketing today requires a much higher tolerance for ambiguity than it did at the beginning of my career.

For decades, our opportunities to maneuver were extremely limited. Traditional media. Trade shows. Maybe a little PR. Today the opportunities to reach our customers are shifting all the time. And more significantly, the rules of engagement are shifting, too. What worked last week may not work this week. It takes courage to explain that to your boss.

Years ago, strategy was a function of the price, product, placement, promotion. Yes, that still matters but today, success is three-dimensional, a combination of speed, space, and time. Strategy today is not putting a flag in the ground. It’s putting a flag in the sand. Strategy is liquid.

I was recently working with a fairly large firm who desperately needed to make a transition from print and paper to digital marketing. But everybody on the staff was firmly rooted in newspaper and magazine advertising. The CMO tried a re-training program but it became apparent she was creating chaos and confusion instead of a digitally-savvy team. It wasn’t going to work. She needed to fire and re-hire. Courage? Yeah.

It’s interesting to compare the rate of change in other major company functions with marketing. Let’s face it, if you’re in HR, manufacturing, or accounting your daily routine is not dramatically different than it was 10 years ago. Sure the laws have changed, competition shifts and there’s always new technology to learn but the function is basically the same. Marketing? It would be unrecognizable to the people who wrote the text books or taught me when I was in college.

Today, marketing is math instead of instinct. It’s continuous testing and iteration instead of “stay the course.” Marketing means crowdsourcing and collaboration rather than building a team that is on a definable career path.

Leading a marketing function today takes a wholly different skills than it did 10 years ago. Chief among them, courage.

This post was originally written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell’s thought leadership site PowerMoreDell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

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