Top 5 reasons why marketing leaders won’t change with the times

marketing leaders

The other day my friend was venting his frustration about the marketing leaders in his company.

He works for an international conglomerate and their marketing is stuck in the 1990s. “Why can’t they change?” he asked. “They see the changes occurring. They know much of what they’re doing doesn’t work any more but I can’t seem to convince them to move ahead!”

This is a very common theme. Perhaps you’re experiencing this, too?

Changing a marketing culture is excruciatingly hard because there is usually an invisible scaffold propping up the old habits and keeping them in place. This structure threatens the viability of marketing effectiveness in this new consumer age.

Let’s dissect this scaffolding of marketing disfunction. Here are the top five reasons your marketing department can’t move forward:

5. Marketing leaders who don’t “look up”

Many marketing departments have been set in place years ago and now operate on auto-pilot.

An example: Last year, I was working with a Fortune 100 company on its U.S. marketing strategy. They had put a social media marketing content department in place in 2010 … which seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.

But the world has changed … a lot. This department has been cranking out the same type of content for 10 years and none of it works any more — Literally a waste of millions of dollars of effort every year.

This organization is in a coma. They have not looked up to see that the world has passed them by. They have a job to do and so they keep doing it, as long as there is a budget in place to support their work.

Hint: If you’re not transforming your digital marketing organization at least every two years, it’s definitely time for you to LOOK UP.

4. Marketing leaders hate change and risk

If you hate change, you might be well-suited for the accounting or sales departments but you’ll be hopelessly lost in marketing. To survive in marketing you have to be a change junkie.

It takes a certain type of personality to thrive with constant ambiguity and that is a bit of a rare commodity in corporate employees. Companies are built to avoid risk. But marketing is an unavoidable risk because you need to be constantly testing the boundaries of conformity.

One best practice: One of my favorite marketing leaders at Dell includes a section on “marketing experimentation” in every employee performance review. Moving ahead is an expectation for him.

A friend of mine moved from IT to a marketing job “Technology is logical,” he said. “It’s math. It doesn’t lie and it moves in one direction. Marketing is chaos. It’s very hard to adjust to that world if you’re a logical person.”

The marketing mindset has to be: “Embrace the chaos.” That is an alien idea in many companies!

3. We love our ads

Ads are sexy. They’re creative and fun and beautiful. We can show them to our bosses. We can win awards for our ads.

We love to be wined and dined by our buddies at the ad agency. They’re our friends.

But chances are, the ad people only know how to make ads, and adjusting to a new world requires tearing down the scaffolding of those dysfunctional agency relationships. We have to re-negotiate our love affair with traditional ads and the people who make them.

In one example, I was working with a brand manager for a big pharma company. “Every time I ask for a social media or content program, the ad agency comes back with a proposal for ads,” she said. “I’m so frustrated I’m ready to fire the agency. That’s all they know how to do.”

She went on to tell me that one recent proposal was exactly the same as a proposal the agency had presented five years ago (they had forgotten about it). How many strategies from five years ago would work in today’s environment?

In a weird way, this annual dance we do with our ad agency friends keeps marketing dysfunction in place. We’re in love with the old ways and traditional relationships and it’s hard to break free.

Have you re-negotiated the relationship with your agency partners?

2. Lack of modern leadership

There is only one way a marketing department can change direction. The boss has to say so.

No matter how much the worker bees see a need for change, the direction and departmental culture is in the hands of the person holding the strategy and the budget.

This is the central source of CMO angst these days. Marketing jobs are being cut, at least in part because the expectations of a board of directors are one thing and the expectations of our customers are another. The marketing leader is caught in the middle between driving quarterly numbers and building long-term customer loyalty that is independent from spreadsheets.

It takes a special kind of courage to drive the change that’s needed when it may be in conflict with traditional CMO duties. Hey, we like our jobs. We want to keep our jobs. We want to hold on to the familiar as long as we can.

1. Measurement

This might seem like an odd choice for my number one obstacle to change, so let me explain.

One of the most stirring — and disturbing — quotes in my book Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins is this:

“You can keep up with the pulse of culture or you can measure. You probably can’t do both.”

This comes from Marc Simons, a co-founder of the pioneering experiential agency Giant Spoon.

There is so much truth in this quote … although it makes my brain rattle.

On the one hand, it’s undeniably true. You have to keep up with consumer demands, even if the measurement has not caught up with the culture yet.

On the other hand, how do you manage what you can’t measure?

We’re in a period where we MUST experiment with new ideas and approaches like word of mouth and experiential marketing, even if don’t know how to measure them yet.

Measurement is a highly emotional issue. Suggesting that you embark on a marketing path that cannot be easily measured represents heresy in many companies. Yet holding onto familiar metrics dashboard, and measures that are easy to count like “likes” may become meaningless today.

I’m convinced that overcoming this measurement hurdle will be the primary obstacle to change for marketing leaders in this new consumer age.

That’s my take on the subject. I’d love to hear from you. What do you see happening (or NOT happening) at your company?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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