With economic uncertainty and short-termism, the pressure is on the modern marketer to do so much more, with less. But is it sustainable, or even possible? AZK Media founder and managing partner Azadeh Williams discusses with Mark Baartse, marketing consultant and former CMO of Showpo.
AW: Mark, you're a prolific marketing leader. What are the key qualities of a modern marketer?
MB: By far, the most important quality is having a commercial focus. I work with a lot of junior marketers at my work and the number one question I ask them is, are you focusing on the goal? It seems obvious, but most people really miss that. That's easily the number one. Another big one is the ability to understand firstly, the data, which is obviously increasingly important, but also to understand the brand. I see a lot of marketers are either all brand or they are all data - but it's the fusion of them both that has a lot of power.
AW: But it's interesting you say that, because there's almost a misconception that there's a unicorn marketer that knows everything. They can wave a magic wand and leads will fall from the sky. Whereas really, there's an insane amount of orchestration involved and skill and expertise. What are your thoughts on all this?
MB: I see that a lot. I start working with companies, and they're expecting me to do something miraculous and crazy. What I do is say, let's look at your processes, let's look at your data quality and let's look at your budgeting. That's such a big one. By getting the foundations right, that's actually where the biggest results are delivered, not the big, flashy campaigns - although there's a time and a place for them. But, it's getting the foundations right, most people are just not executing the basics right.
AW: There also still seems a bit of that old school mentality of marketing being brochures and flyers and the 'colouring-in' department. What do you think is the definition of a modern marketer?
Ideally, it's someone who can balance data and brand. There's a lot of people out there who are just all just data, data, data, and they can't see the world past the spreadsheet. They forget that there's actually real humans behind those numbers. But then, on the other hand, brand markers often feel exempt from any accountability or measurement. You really need to bring those two together and find people who can do that is really, really hard.
AW: At AZK Media, what we're finding is there seems to be, especially in recent times, an over-focus on data and technology and thinking, "we bought HubSpot or Salesforce, it'll just do its job and do the marketing for us". They forget that the whole brand concept of building the emotional connection.
MB: I couldn't agree more, which is kind of funny, because I'm known as a data-driven marketer. I used to be a lead programmer at Microsoft. I understand data, but people ignore that human element and that there is a human behind this data.
I've seen surveys or studies done, which shows that targeting, which is this thing we put so much emphasis on in digital marketing, is maybe only 10% of the efficacy. Meanwhile messaging and brand and the creative is around 50 or 60% of the efficacy. We put this enormous focus on this tiny sliver and a lot of people are completely ignoring that creative brand, emotional connection.
AW: For businesses that want to invest in consultants and agencies, what are some of the key qualities they should be looking for?
MB: A good start is having good self-awareness, which means understanding where your gaps and limitations are. Everyone has gaps and limitations. Understanding where they are and finding someone who's a good match for that. Then of course, there's a big cultural fit, I spend a lot of time introducing companies and agencies. I'm looking for the right skills and the right pricing model, but I'm also looking for the right cultural fit as well. That's really, really critical.
AW: When it comes to marketing, what do you think businesses should start doing in 2021?
MB: It's a favourite subject of mine and everyone talks about it, but customer experience. Everyone talks about customer experience, but many people aren't actually doing it, they're just a pay lip service to it. But I routinely go into companies who have never actually spoken to a real customer. It just boggles my mind, it happens again and again and again. You can't say you're customer focused unless you're actually talking to customers.
AW: On the flip side, what should businesses just stop doing when it comes to marketing?
MB: I think maybe not 'stop' but revisit marking activities. When I go into a new company, I typically start off doing a review of all the activities. I often find companies are doing a lot of what I call "marketing-like" activities.
They look like marketing, they feel like marketing, but are they actually moving the needle in a measurable way? If they're not, I start asking, why are we doing this? I worked with a company recently that was spending probably 50% of all their resources on one particular activity that was producing no results. So I say, let's just stop doing that - and that felt like a radical notion to them. But if you want to get results, you need to be willing to adapt and change.