Some descriptionBrian Doidge, Chair, CIM South West Regional Board

I was recently asked, for my thoughts on what it takes to be great marketer and when I paused for thought for few moments, I quickly recognised, just as I am sure you would have done, that this is actually a very big question framed within a few words.  My second thought, was that this is inevitably something that would get a range of answers if it was asked at a round table event attended by senior members of our profession and it is possibly not something readily deployable as a one sentence soundbite.    That said, there are as we know, a range of off the peg definitions and opinions and there are also many business leaders, who are very clear around what they want great marketing to be and what they want it to do. In fact, I have talked with fellow professionals about this quite recently and heard for example that great marketing is all about digital now, or indeed it is just about great advertising, which of course isn’t wrong, it just doesn’t feel like the whole truth.   Inevitably I often hear that great marketers are those who: are Chartered, are qualified, who follow a code of conduct (or standards), have a proven track record, particularly within delivery of the Professional Marketing Competencies, or that they are those who are good at personal branding for example. All difficult to argue with, but it somehow seems to lack the detail and depth needed to respond adequately to the question posed.

 I did think though that in my experience, great marketers notwithstanding the above, seem to be those who are very adept at carefully blending efficiency, effectiveness and know-how, in a way that enables them to identify how to deliver sustainable competitive advantage that is in harmony with the organisation’s strategy statement.  However, I also think that what really sets them apart, is that they are able to do this in ways that sees them allocating the appropriate resources to actually realise success.    In fact, these professionals seem to be able to continuously demonstrate clear parallels with the roots of effectiveness I feel, which as we know is derived from the Latin word effectivus (from efficere), which is now generally accepted to mean what we would more readily term as accomplish. Perhaps this is why having a solid track record is often cited at one of the key indicators, in that we usually respect those who can realise things, rather than just dream of it, or talk a good job.   Yet it often comes as a surprise, to discover that these seemingly gifted and indeed talented individuals, are all too commonly those who actively avoid making assumptions, rather than simply trusting to luck or being confident with their own intuition. They obsessively strive for great information management, which they know they can in turn translate into providing the products and services that actually deliver high perceived value to their customers.

 They are the ones who seem to be extremely determined to know what is going on in the macro environment and they are also relentless in their efforts to establish what their competitors, suppliers are doing and seem to want to know what it is that the customers need.  However, they are also able to analyse the significance of this information and to identify the opportunities and threats that they need to be mindful of, in a way that can be translated into a plausible proposition.  They also seem to empathise very well with what their stakeholder needs actually are.  It is often the case that their reputation for effectiveness, is at least in part rooted in them being mindful of who the influencers are and what it is they are looking for.  Then of course they use this to help shape their own efforts.  Their goal of making their offer of value to a significant number of customers, in a distinctive, superior, hard to copy way (that is still very affordable), as we can imagine, inevitably becomes a whole lot easier, if it is placed on this solid platform. In many ways it gives them a substantial head start over their competitors and helps them to continue to deliver remarkable results.

It may therefore seem somewhat thought provoking to mention, that I have also met and continue to meet many who vehemently oppose any attempt to convince them of the merits of any form of serious structured marketing planning and even if they do give way a little, the idea of embracing the workload required to carry it out, in a way resembling that generally regarded as best practice, is simply just not going to happen where they are.  They feel, usually very strongly, that they want their days to be fun and dynamic and they feel that while they are wasting their time researching, analysing and planning, they could be getting on with some real work and of course keeping a lot more of their mind space available for their natural creativity and their gift for clarity. It is often their belief that they are functioning in the best possible manner, with the least waste of time and effort. Although this does feel in many ways (well at least to me anyway), a form of expression that could be said to be quite incongruous.

However, in its defence, it does have at its heart a focus on efficiency, which will always have some merits and commonly attracts a lot of active supporters. Although I am still not sure how we can support the avoidance of a formal structured approach just because it’s “boring” or because it in involves some effort, as a bona fide justification though.  Ironically, not being able to state what you wanted to achieve and why, does seriously inhibit being able to objectively tell if you have actually been effective. Although the cynic of course would also say it is difficult to prove that you have been ineffective too.  (Perhaps this often comes with a thank goodness suffix for some at least?). On balance despite the firm assertions, it may well turn out that it is not actually as efficient as it promoted to be, unless we can readily prove that we are truly performing or functioning in the best possible manner, with the least waste of time and effort, by way of our more intuitive approach and that it consistently delivers significant results.

It is however less contentious to assert that good marketing needs to be a careful blend of a range of mechanics and dynamics, if it has any chance of being truly effective. To do this properly, it definitely requires due diligence and more than a modicum of careful thought.  However, it clearly also requires a willingness and ability to be creative and often a need to break the mould and the courage to go out on a limb from time to time, but never through some form of reckless abandon of course. In fact, a great marketer in my experience, always puts a good deal of thought and effort into their business activities.  They know what they stand for, they know much about their macro, meso and micro environments, they know their situation really well, they know what it is they are trying to achieve and they also know how their performing. These are the professionals, who are consistent in ensuring that their business is known for what it does and making sure that they only accept that what they do, has to be done extremely well in reality.  They also know the importance of making sure that they constantly remind their audience how robust and durable their offer is and just how well it can meet their needs. In fact, these individuals know all too well that this communication effort is made much more straightforward, if it has been underpinned by great knowledge and effective systems, which are complimented by standard-setting excellence, which has customer satisfaction and value at its core.

Great marketers also seem to know which strategic models to deploy and those they need to ignore and can relate very well to the bigger picture.  In addition, they are also all too aware of the interdependency of the seven parts of the marketing mix and are able to craft their efforts within this crucial model to excellent effect, time and time again.   What often comes as a surprise though, is that they are very clear on how they are going to measure the impact of what is being done (metrics).  Controls and measures are sadly all too often still seen as a suffix by practitioners, rather than an integral component of marketing and where it is being considered, it can feel quite cursory.  However great marketers, in addition to setting objectives and deadlines, will look at a range of relevant measures.  Inevitably the better ones will naturally include financial measures, with things like revenue and margins seemingly a must, but others like return on investment and payback for example frequently appearing.  Other measures that are appropriate to the context, also usually appear via some form of dashboard that they use as a composite of strategic, operational and activity measures. This becomes a vital tool for great marketers that provides them with a robust way to access information in a visually effective form.  This then allows them to understand the status of any one or any range of activities that are being undertaken. These dashboards will include more traditional metrics that identify customer satisfaction levels, in addition to customer retention and loyalty measures for example. Others look to measure levels of repeat purchasing and are complimented by various details about customer complaints for example. However, it would be unusual for them not to include search engine analytics, or a range of digital metrics, which are also enthusiastically embraced by the best marketers in a concerted, systematic effort to not only measure, but to continuously improve. However, far from being a form of squander, this inevitably manifests as both cost effective and cost efficient which adds further to their claim to greatness. 

So, in a nutshell, I believe that as well as being a consummate professional, a great marketer can consistently plan, prepare and deliver really well, using a wide range of skills and acquired knowledge to maximise positive impact.  They are willing to work hard, embrace change and challenge the norms.  However, they are often more unassuming than we might typically expect, although they tend to command huge respect from their colleagues and wider peer group.  They always strive for excellence and have a customer centric orientation, but as well as being innovative and creative, they are great at managing information and using it to guide and justify their proposals and to deploy it effectively to monitor and improve overall performance. Like many of our members, they also very much recognise that they are still working hard at being the best they can be.  Many of them are of course members themselves and they have also studied hard to gain a CIM qualification at one of our accredited study centres, or as part of their degree programme at a Graduate Gateway University. 

Many of the best marketers have also obtained Chartered Marketer status, allowing them to enjoy the formal recognition of being among those achieving the highest level in our profession. Being chartered demonstrates commitment to keeping up-to-date and a willingness to embrace a very active CPD record and is awarded via a combination of experience and qualifications.  Whether you are already great, nearly great, or determined to become great in the fullness of time, the CIM as the world’s leading professional marketing body, is very well placed to support you. If you need further details, please click on the links above, or feel free to contact me or any member of the south west regional team, who will be very happy to support you in your professional endeavours.