Marketing has always been important. Without it, we wouldn’t know what 15 minutes can save you, or (for my older readers, including myself) where the beef is. (Side note: they never really answered that question, did they? They just said, “Where’s the beef?” and apparently we were all supposed to find it on our own.) You probably can’t remember the last time you purchased something that you’d never heard of before – and if you have, then some marketing person designed the packaging or shelf display or online description that caught your attention sufficiently enough to trick you into buying it. Marketing has always been important.
But now it’s utterly essential, thanks mostly to the Internet and the newfound ease with which all of us can share everything we make/sell/think to everyone else on the planet. You’ve probably read a million articles about the various ways that technology has changed our world, but here’s a thesis I’ve never seen before: the main upshot of our interconnected world is a need to market more frequently and more aggressively than we have ever had to do before. The entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and companies that understand this are the ones that will find more and more success, while the ones who don’t will slowly fade into irrelevance.
There are two main reasons your marketing department is more important now than ever. The first is something I’ve already said – everyone can now share everything with everybody. This might make it seem easier to market things now than ever before, and in one sense it is. But it means you’re also competing with a lot more businesses than you were fifteen years ago. I spoke at an event recently for a regional health insurance provider that is the largest player in its region; they showed everyone a pie chart to indicate their market share. Their biggest competitor? OTHER, which is the name they applied to the hundreds of boutique health insurers that individually were not a threat to their business but collectively were. Without effective marketing, even the largest company can get swallowed up by all the noise that is the consequence of a world without gatekeepers.
Which leads to the second main reason you should give your marketing people donuts or mani/pedis or whatever it is will make them happy and productive – there are no gatekeepers anymore. In the past, information about everything (products, politics, science, etc.) had to run through a series of vetted channels before it could reach the broader public. Companies had the luxury of crafting and controlling their messaging, and consumers had no ability to contest that messaging on a broader scale. Those days are gone, though, and as a result marketing departments are increasingly responsible for playing both offense and defense against a wide variety of disparate and often completely unexpected issues.
Perhaps the best example of the importance of marketing is the current discussion about vaccines. Regardless of your opinion on this issue, here is what happened: for approximately 60 years, the medical community was in unanimous agreement about the importance of getting vaccinated, they were in total control of that messaging, and they received little if any pushback from patients because there was no way for dissatisfied patients to work collectively. Then, once the Internet allowed for it, a small number of like-minded people began to find each other and collectively question the importance of getting vaccinated. The medical community’s initial reaction to this was to ignore these people as either uninformed or otherwise not worth dealing with, which was exactly the wrong thing for them to do. They were operating with the mentality that they were still in total control of their message, and it ultimately cost them – the anti-vaccine conversations grew louder, more and more people stopped vaccinating their kids, and only belatedly did the medical community realize that they needed to stress the importance of vaccination if they wanted people to continue behaving the way they had been for the past several decades.
The glacial pace with which the medical community reacted to this threat to their message underscores a larger point about marketing in general – namely, that most of us aren’t overly happy about the way things are. It can be exhausting to market the merits of a particular product or idea over and over and over again, and it is certainly infuriating when one negative review seems to undo weeks’ worth of work. In my opinion, this is one of the undeniable negatives of the Internet or interconnectivity or globalization or whatever you want to call it. Whether we like it or not, our ability to market who we are, what we stand for, and what we create requires a larger percentage of our time than it used to. For many of us (especially the non-marketers among us), it would be lovely if we could just skip it entirely.
But that simply isn’t an option, for reasons that I’ve already shared. And this is not just an issue for product developers and salespeople. I’ve spoken with dozens of companies across dozens of industries who have expressed some degree of frustration about the difficulty of attracting highly-qualified candidates for open positions. Invariably they say something like, “We build power plants for natural gas providers. It’s a great job, but it’s not sexy like working for Google or whatever. How do we get them to realize that they can have a great career here?”
Um, I don’t know – your marketing department, maybe?
I don’t want to pretend that this is an easy thing to do, because it isn’t. In fact, as I think I’ve illustrated here, it’s harder than ever. Which is why it’s more important than ever. So the next time you talk with someone in marketing, consider buying them a drink. They’re doing everything they can to keep your company going, and they could probably use one.