Teddy Cheek

Marketing is Broken (Here’s How to Fix it in 4 Easy Steps)

Would you rather start with the good news or the bad news?

The good news? Agreed, let’s start with that.

The good news – the creature below actually exists. If the impending “bad news” is difficult to hear, think about two red pandas getting ready for a snuggle battle.

Now for the bad news…Marketing is broken. Here’s the proof:

1. Only 9% of marketers “strongly agree” that their digital marketing is actually working. – Adobe

2. Only 44% of marketers think that their marketing departments have a great deal of influence over the organization’s business strategy. – Adobe

But is that true? 

3. 73% of CEO’s think “marketers lack business credibility.”  – Fournaise Marketing Group


4. 80% of CEO’s don’t trust their CMO’s or are unimpressed by them.  – Fournaise Marketing Group


But what does the public think of marketers?

The public trusts Advertising practitioners less than State officeholders, TV reporters and lawyers. Only 11% put “high” or “very high” trust in Advertising practitioners. 

To summarize… The public doesn’t trust marketers. Company leaders don’t trust marketers. And marketers don’t trust themselves. 

Ok, remember…red pandas, red pandas.

Hey, at least us marketers are self aware. That’s got to count for something.

Not so fast. If we’re so self aware, why are we continuing to fight for bigger and bigger advertising budgets? We don’t even believe that the advertising we are doing is working!

Growth in Yearly Advertising Spend – Statista

Rather than dealing with the fact that our marketing isn’t working, we numb the pain by spending more and chasing the latest marketing trends. 

Ok, let’s turn the vibe around. ????????????

I think we can fix marketing in 4 easy steps. Let’s get started!

STEP 1. We need to define “marketing”

Maybe the problem is that we have no idea what we’re doing. And I mean that completely literally ➡️ What is marketing?

Let’s start our search for the answers with some pop culture.

According to Schmidt on New Girl, marketing is “the backbone of capitalism. Without it, you’d be dead in two days.” 

According to Mad Men, it’s sipping whisky and dreaming up the perfect advertisement that will manipulate the public into buying a product.

When I got into marketing, I was hoping for the version I saw on Full House – writing jingles, pitching ideas for commercials, and penning epic taglines. (I do love the days that my job feels like this)

Many marketers today have found that marketing is actually managing chaos, fielding “ideas” from everyone and their mother, drowning in emails, defending your own ideas, and fighting for a larger budget.

So, are we marketing yet? Here’s my definition…

I’d argue that marketing has both a broad definition and a more specific definition depending on what it is you’re marketing.

I’ll explain…

The broad definition – Marketing is contributing meaningfully to the success of an organization, product, or idea.

But to define marketing specifically, we must first define success for that organization, product, or idea. 

Maybe your organization has a clear set of objectives, goals, or even a vision statement? If so, marketing is contributing meaningfully to those.

And once success has been clearly defined, you put together a team, a budget, and employ strategies and tactics to achieve those ends. 

Now, we’re marketing ????

Taking it one step further, you weren’t hired to do marketing activities. You weren’t hired to run Facebook ads (no matter what your job description says). You were hired to help the organization, product, or idea achieve success.

And every time an executive approves the necessary budget to hire another marketer, that money is being invested in the pursuit of success. Not to fill an empty seat, not to do SEO, not because the marketing team is really busy, but in the pursuit of success. 

You, your team, and every dollar you spend is being invested.

STEP 2: We need to stop thinking like marketers and start thinking like business owners

Many of us got into marketing because we learned a marketing skill. Maybe you know how to run Google Ads, write a killer blog, or design a compelling infographic.

Those are all useful skills. But if we aren’t connecting them back to business results, we’ve learned how to hammer, but we have no idea what we’re building. 

Remember the game Guitar Hero? It’s that video game where you play a fake guitar with 5 buttons. It sure makes you feel like a rockstar but it doesn’t teach you to actually play guitar in a band. If our businesses were a band, some of our marketing departments are full of expert Guitar Hero players.

We lack an understanding of how we really contribute to the business, product, or idea that we serve. This limits our impact and colors how company leaders view marketers. 

The fix – developing business acumen so we can think like an owner. 

Meet Jerry. Jerry, owns one of the many food carts in NYC. 

Jerry doesn’t know any marketing jargon but he’s got business chops. Jerry has been forced to figure out how to turn his own money into more money. And if he doesn’t, he doesn’t eat. 

Here’s why Jerry is a strong marketer and businessman:

  • He knows (and loves) his product
  • He knows his customers and talks to them regularly (he doesn’t just email out surveys)
  • He knows his competitors and notices when they change something
  • He understands what factors are affecting foot traffic today
  • He understands how the weather and seasonality affect his business
  • He knows when he can raise his price and by how much
  • He understands how discounting affects his profit

We should all be a bit more like Jerry. If Jerry joined your marketing team, he’d think like an owner and it’s likely company executives would love working with him.

Tip – use budgeting season as a learning opportunity rather than a battle

A couple of years ago I was schooled by our CEO. It was budget season and I had just presented my budget proposal for the following year. I had recommended a fairly significant increase in spending for our Jacksonville location and a minimal increase in NYC. 

I was asked to explain these changes. I spoke about amazing advertising opportunities in Jacksonville that we’d be crazy to pass up.

Our CEO approached the whiteboard. He explained that our Jacksonville location was within a couple percentage points of his most optimistic expectations for the store. NYC on the other hand, if performing as well as he’d want, could increase their revenue by a much higher percentage.

My proposal showed that I was thinking like a marketer, not a business leader. I had presented a good advertising plan but not a good business plan. 

The quickest and easiest way to put yourself into an owner’s mindset is to ask yourself “if this was my money, how would I spend it?

STEP 3: We need great marketing leaders

Most companies fill the marketing leader role with whoever has the most marketing experience or the most developed technical skills. But the skills that make a great marketer, don’t make a great marketing leader.

A marketing team that isn’t led by a great leader will live a chaotic existence – chasing ideas, fighting for more money, and trying to prove that they deserve a seat at the table.

Here’s some good news – leadership can be developed. It’s not something you’re either born with or born without. If you’ve been asked to lead the team, develop your leadership skills until you view yourself as more of a leader than a marketer. 

How to Level up Your Marketing Leadership

Here’s where to start – a marketing leader fulfills two key roles: the role of Coach and the role of Catalyst.

Coach: A Coach embodies the culture, develops team members, and teaches them how to win.

  • Embody the culture: Live and breathe the company culture. Then expect your team to do the same. The leader sets the tone. Sharing a culture creates alignment. Alignment creates chemistry. It’s not team building or happy hours that create chemistry, it’s aligning around the culture.
  • Develop team members: Apply healthy pressure to help your team members reach their potential. Providing clear feedback and direction isn’t micromanaging, it’s investing in your team and the careers of your team members. This whole “hire great people and get out of their way” thing is typically used as an excuse not to do the hard work of coaching.
  • Teach the team to win: Winning is a skill, not just an outcome. It can be taught. It can be learned. Winning is a result of consistent, excellent execution. The execution framework below, The Execution Ladder, will help your team prioritize, set goals, build momentum, and start winning. Make sure to start at the bottom of the Execution Ladder before making your way up. NEVER start with ideas and tactics. That  will lead to chasing shiny objects and never achieving much of anything.
Marketing Team Execution Plan

Read my marketing execution guide, The Execution Ladder, to dig deeper into goal setting and teaching your team to win.

Catalyst: A Catalyst shares a big vision, invites their team into that vision, and executes alongside their team.

  • Share a big vision: Inspire your team by sharing a big, bold vision. Paint a picture of what triumph will look like. Then describe what defeat would look like. The distance between the two…that’s the stakes. A good story has to have stakes. A vision is a set of goals wrapped in an inspiring story. It describes an exciting future and the desired end state.
  • Invite your team into the vision: Now invite your team to come along. Make it clear that achieving the vision will take everyone and take their best. Ask them to respond, to opt-in. Even asking your team to email you the words “I’m in” will ensure they’ve got skin in the game. That may sound odd, but it is psychologically sound advice.
  • Execute alongside your team: Don’t share a big vision and then watch your team execute from 30,000 feet. Set the pace by executing alongside your team. Show them that you are willing to work for the vision too. Your active participation is inspiring.

    Don’t forget to celebrate the little wins along the way. I call these little wins “trail markers” because they show you that you’re on the right path. If you don’t celebrate progress, you’ll lose any momentum you’ve gained.

A Coach that isn’t a Catalyst will struggle to motivate and inspire their team. A Catalyst that’s not a Coach won’t provide enough structure and execution will be lacking.

If you want to dive deeper into marketing leadership, read my full Marketing Leadership Guide.

STEP 4: It’s time to start being honest

Finally, we’ve got to start being honest. Marketers often live in pitch mode. In pitch mode, we aren’t trying to lie or deceive. But we do stretch reality and sprinkle in some jargon to provide cover the weaker parts of our position. 

We can do better. Below are some of the traits of an Honest Marketer.

  1. They don’t use misleading stats: My pet peeve is when publicity teams boast insanely huge numbers in their reports. They total up the monthly page views of every website that covers your story. Here’s the problem with that – Forbes may have millions of monthly page views, but it’s likely that only a few saw your article buried among hundreds of other articles. I once received a press report that claimed to have reached 1 billion people. I laughed. I’m pretty sure that 15% of the world’s population didn’t see my story.
  2. They don’t use jargon to avoid answering questions or to cover a weak argument: Nothing is worse than hearing a marketer answer a question with tons of jargon and fluff. It’s like when a ninja drops a fog bomb for cover. Everyone knows the marketer is hiding.
  3. They don’t always ask for more money: If you’re always asking for a bigger and bigger budget, there’s a 99% chance that you aren’t thinking like a business owner (See Step 2). There are times to press on the gas and there are times to pull back. If you only press on the gas, it’s a big red flag to leadership.
  4. They show their work: If you invest money into something, be clear about your expectations for that investment. What do you expect to happen and in what timeframe? Write it down. Commit to when and how you’ll report back to stakeholders.
  5. They admit when something doesn’t work: Marketing involves taking risks and they won’t all pan out. Be honest about your wins and losses. Don’t hide your losses from leadership.

The result of developing these traits? Credibility

Dive deeper by reading my 8 traits of an honest marketer.

Marketing, fixed?

Here’s the results of the 4 steps I’ve proposed below.  

  • STEP 1: Defining the role and goal of marketing = Clarity
  • STEP 2: Thinking like a business owner = Relevance and influence in your organization
  • STEP 3: Great leadership = Results and consistency
  • STEP 4: Intellectual honesty = Credibility and trust

I should have started with this… I don’t know everything and I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way. I’ve been lucky to be coached by an epic group of executives at The Escape Game. 

Our CEO Mark is the wisest businessperson I’ve ever known.

Our COO James created and defends our culture, which is our foundation and secret weapon.

Our CMO Jonny is both a coach and catalyst. 

Marketers, we got this. Ready to go pro together?

Have questions or want to talk about marketing? Email me at Teddy@TeddyCheek.com.

About Teddy Cheek

Hi, I’m Teddy

I’ve led marketing teams since 2013. I believe that good leadership is marketing’s only cheat code. More important than tactics or talent, it can send a team into hyperdrive. Fortunately for me, it’s a skill that can be developed. I hope my blog helps you build a dominant team and career you love.

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