If I had to strip marketing down to one thing, and one thing alone, I would say it was all about people
Forget data, forget digital, forget Brexit, marketing is all about people. And this is why talent is probably the most critical issue for any marketing leader looking to the future.
By talent, I’m not simply talking about attracting all the bright young things to our industry, but also about looking after the great people we already have in our marketing teams. By guarding their wellbeing, our marketers, from chief marketing officer to brand manager, can perform at their best, more of the time.
This is the human side of marketing. And it’s all too easy to forget chief marketing officers might also be parents, children, carers, rock climbers, pub quiz masters, marathon runners, film buffs or rugby fans. Alongside their roles as brand guardian, customer voice, growth driver, value creator, they are real people with real pressures.
And I’m a big believer in the benefits of being able to be your whole self at work and not be afraid to admit to vulnerabilities.
This is one of the reasons why The Marketing Society this year has been looking at the marketing industry through a new lens of bravery. We know that bold marketing leadership creates and safeguards great brands, so how can we help marketers become braver in everything they do?
Instead of talking about success, we’ve been encouraging our members to share their stories on failures. Instead of talking about brilliant leadership, we’ve been debating bad leadership. The biggest cause of stress at work is inconsistent management, so how can we learn from it? We, as leaders, can cast a big shadow and the impact we intend is not always the impact felt.
We’ve also been encouraging our members to open up about mental health, one of the last great taboos at work. It’s fine to admit to feeling under the weather with a hangover or a heavy cold in the office, but what about a panic attack or depression?
Mental health affects all of us. According to a survey by ComRes for BBC Radio 5 Live, 49 per cent said they would be unlikely to tell their boss about problems such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. And this culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly. More than 21 per cent agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them, according to Mind.
So if we accept that talent is a critical issue for the future, we must also acknowledge that looking after the wellbeing of our marketers is essential.
There are many, many things that have changed in the marketing industry over the last few years, but there is one constant. The best chief marketing officers are always those who represent the customer in the boardroom. They understand that their role is making the customer’s voice heard in a business environment when other issues – short-term profits, the latest technology, world economics – shout louder for attention.
They understand that keeping the customer as a North Star will help them navigate the right path to the future without being sidetracked.
And that they must know their customers as a whole person, not a number on a spreadsheet, not a pair of eyes watching a TV ad or a hand on a smartphone.
It’s time we did the same for our marketers. Yes, they might have to be a digital whizz, creative genius, data cruncher, customer whisperer, content curator, growth driver and value creator. But they’re also your neighbour, the harassed parent in the school playground, the commuter on their laptop, the dog walker in the park.
And set against the tectonic changes in our industry’s currency – customers and communication platforms – we need to recognise the humanity in everything we do.