When David Packard, the iconic cofounder of Hewlett Packard, famously said, "Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department," he was right. Sort of.
If you really understand the marketing function -- which Packard did, although I can't say the same of most executives -- you get how critical it is to the success of companies in highly competitive markets. These days, that pretty much describes any company in any market.
That said, organizations aren't very effective when they're run like free-for-alls. So, like it or not, you've got to have a marketing department that's hopefully run by someone who knows what he's doing. Unfortunately, that's not usually the case.
Why that is, I really can't say. In the high-tech industry, engineers are often tapped for marketing functions. Some have an aptitude for it. Most don't. So Silicon Valley is full of clueless marketers.
That's not to say that hiring an MBA right out of school is the answer either. In his seminal book "Marketing High Technology," venture capitalist and former Intel exec Bill Davidow wrote: "Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments." I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure they don't teach you how to do that in business school.
Sounds like quite a dilemma, doesn't it? Well, it's really not. You see, what it takes to be a great marketer these days is not black and white, it's not simple, it's not easy, and it's not for everyone. It goes well beyond understanding the technology or classical marketing training. That's because, these days, marketing is hard.
You see, we work in an era of complex technologies and supply chains, brutal global competition, and ridiculously high customer expectations. That combination makes marketing hard.
While it's not for the faint of heart, there are far worse ways to make a living than a job that's critical to the company's success and ridiculously challenging. That's exactly what I signed up for when I used to do it for a living. So, if you're also into that sort of thing, or you're a CEO who's wondering if his CMO has a clue, here's what it takes to be a great marketer:
A genuine desire to be the hub of the wheel. If you think about the remarkably astute observations of Packard and Davidow, you quickly come to realize that, for marketing to be successful, it has to live at the hub of the product wheel. Marketing has to bridge what product development can design, what operations can build, what customers want or need, and what sales needs to be able to sell. It has to deliver strategy that will beat competitors doing the same thing. And it has to communicate effectively with each of those diverse constituents. It's a remarkably tough, often thankless job, and a great marketer has to really want it.
A deep understanding of the product, service, and technology. There's a reason why engineers and technologists are well suited to transition into marketing. Not only do they get the technology, but they can connect with the development and operations people on their level. At the very least, marketers have to be willing and able to immerse themselves in the technology and really get what makes it special, unique, and challenging.
A visceral connection with the customer and the customer experience. As Mark McCormack taught -- since they don't teach it in business school -- companies exist for only one purpose: to win and keep customers. But innovative companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook have shown us that customers don't always know what they want. So, besides being the principle customer advocate, marketers have to be the best "focus group of one" in the company. That means having an intuitive connection with the customer or user experience.
The ability to boil complex concepts down to simple messages. We live in a complex world of information and communication overload that affects every single one of us. Now, more than ever, marketers need to be able to boil complex concepts down to simple, discrete, digestible sound bites. They need to be able to communicate with a broad range of stakeholders in a manner that's both engaging and informative.
A competitive spirit. These days it's popular to think win-win: that business isn't war, that competition should feel good, that everybody should win. What a crock. Business is about winning, and successful marketers have a competitive spirit, a real desire to win. Moreover, marketers must have a solid understanding of sales channels and the ability to provide the tools and materials the sales force needs to get the job done.
The ability to think strategically and execute flawlessly. A great marketer must be a great strategist. Whether it's market segmentation, product positioning, customer traction, communications, or channel development, marketing success always comes down to having better strategy than the competition. You don't necessarily have to be first to market, higher performance, or lower cost. You just have to be better in ways that are meaningful to customers. That's what translates into market share, revenue growth, and profits. Flawless execution is more or less a given.
Now, if you're itching to be the hub of the wheel and you think you've got all this stuff down, then you might be the second coming of Steve Jobs. Hey, you never know.