Five Challenges Facing Marketers Today

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Marketing has never been more important or more misunderstood than it is today.

On one hand, CMOs are gaining influence, and marketing spend is on the rise. On the other hand, data and automation technology are driving seismic shifts in the industry, which have created uncertainty.

Executives, co-workers, and even marketers themselves are questioning the role of marketing, its goals, and how to achieve them.

That confusion can cause problems within an organization. When marketers aren’t sure how to deliver the best results, or when they feel friction from other departments, their productivity and success rates go down.

Here are five common challenges facing marketers today—and suggestions for overcoming them.

1. Nobody understands what marketing does

Marketing used to be a simpler proposition—conduct market research, come up with a creative angle for a product, and execute campaigns. Then everything changed over the last decade. Marketing today is responsible for branding, messaging, demand generation, collateral, competitive positioning, revenue, and more. And yet, you still have co-workers who, when pressed, couldn’t say what exactly marketing does.

Marketers should take the time to educate and inform their colleagues about why marketing matters and what significant role it plays in helping a business grow. A good tactic is to hold monthly “lunch-and-learns,” during which you teach interested co-workers about a new aspect of marketing every session.

Another idea is to volunteer to present at other department meetings about what’s going on within marketing.

Those actions have the additional benefit of strengthening the bonds between marketing and other areas of the organization, and bringing everyone into closer alignment.

2. I don’t control many aspects of the business I’m expected to influence

Marketers are given the important task of telling a compelling tale about a product or service. However, this responsibility usually does not come with the power to alter the building blocks of the story. Not only is that incredibly frustrating, but it can also make it more difficult for marketers to do their jobs.

Marketing leaders can address this challenge by striving to understand as many facets of the business as possible, whether it’s a product road map, customer success story, or the firm’s social giving program.

An intimate understanding of the entire company will make crafting a credible and engaging story much easier for marketers.

3. I don’t know whether I’m measuring the right things

We now we operate in a world where if it’s digital, it’s measurable, and that attitude has transformed the marketers operate.

Measurement is critical to understanding product-market fit, customer behavior, user-experience bottlenecks, factors driving retention, traction, and just about anything else you can think of.

Unfortunately, the most important metrics are often the hardest to measure. And to make matters worse, software suites that offer pretty interfaces and the promise of data reconciliation frequently cloud the fact that they spotlight the wrong numbers.

A key question for marketers is where to focus.

My strategy is to start with revenue and work backwards. Marketers should also be careful to avoid vanity metrics, and only focus on the factors that drive the business forward. Open rates, number of followers, and traffic are all important, but in today’s data-driven world, marketers must be able to quantifiably connect their efforts to hard metrics, such as revenue and growth.

Remember that your CMO’s No. 1 goal is to drive results. Clearly demonstrate that your work has a real influence, and you will become indispensable.

4. I don’t know what expectations to set

Everyone who works in marketing makes promises—it is part of the game. The people who reach the top of the marketing pile do so because they are consistent in keeping their promises or exceeding them. Your ability to stay at the top depends on making the right promises at the right time, and within the right context. Remember the formula “happiness equals reality minus expectations” when you set expectations for your marketing deliverables with others.

5. I don’t know whether the data is leading me to the right place

The double-edged sword of data is that it can be easy to optimize locally but fail globally (and vice versa). For example, if you are in the content production game, you can look at your analytics, find the low-hanging fruit, and write a post designed just for that audience. Your actions are pre-validated, but that also means you could be missing opportunities to reach a larger audience.

Smart marketers rely on predictive technologies that do the analysis for them and suggest where to make their best marketing bets. Data can help find answer to questions like which campaigns to double down on, which leads to pass to sales versus which to nurture yourself, and which accounts sales and marketing should be going after.

Data can’t solve everything, but the best marketers fuse intuition and analytics to make bold moves, measure, and iterate.

* * *

The irony of the data explosion is that, in many ways, it has obfuscated more than it has illuminated. Marketers have an unbelievable wealth of information at their fingertips—information that the marketers of yesteryear couldn’t even have dreamed of—but that does not make their jobs any easier.

Modern marketers have to overcome these five challenges and prove beyond measure of a doubt that marketing drives real results. The time for “I don’t know” is rapidly fading away.

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