The greatest long-term challenge marketers face

Over dinner at the workshop I was conducting recently, one of the participants posed an absolutely fascinating question to me:

What’s the biggest challenge that marketers face today?

My answer was simple but difficult to fix: a lack of belief. That’s the greatest challenge all marketers will face in the coming years. As social media and new media offer ever increasing levels of transparency (whether companies want it or not), it will become more and more obvious which companies have employees that believe in them and which companies do not.

Belief matters a great deal. If you believe in your company and the work you are doing, your work is better. You care more about the customer because you know you’re legitimately helping them. You sell more easily because your convictions power your sales skills. You market more fluently and fluidly because you genuinely believe that getting more people involved with your product or service will be to their benefit.

In Business 1.0, belief didn’t matter a whole lot. The marketing team had to have belief to a degree in order to market authentically, but outside of customer service, no one really talked to the outside world about the company beyond small circles of family and friends.

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In Business 2.0, belief matters at an organizational level, because a junior employee in a remote branch can do catastrophic damage to your brand with a single YouTube video (just ask Domino’s Pizza). A developer in a backroom can do enormous good to your brand by adding a little twist to your product or service that honors your customers (see this wonderful story about Blizzard Entertainment) because they believe in what they do.

Looking back over my own career to date, I can firmly say I’ve done the best work of my career when I truly believed in what I did, and I can say equally firmly that my work quality has suffered when I stopped believing in the company and the work.

Here’s why this is a challenge for companies: every employee that uses social media is in marketing, sales, and customer service whether they know it or not. Not every employee reports to the marketing department, nor does marketing have any real control over employees in other departments. Sure, if someone screws up royally, you can count on that person being fired, but every marketer would love to be able to prevent those screw-ups in the first place.

The only way to create conditions where employees are using new media constructively is to have a corporate-wide culture and belief system that allows employees to self-guide what they say and do – and that requires that your company have a greater purpose than just hitting the quarterly numbers or the Wall Street expectations. It requires you to be doing genuinely good work, creating a product or service that legitimately makes the lives of your customers better, and in turn creating a sense of pride in employees that inspires them to go above and beyond.

If you don’t have that, then you will inevitably have marketing problems as dissatisfied employees show their discontent in a variety of ways that will undermine every marketing effort, from poor service to sloppy quality to outright malicious damage to your company.

That’s the greatest challenge of marketing in the modern era, and it’s one that requires significant effort on your part to solve as a company, not just a marketer.


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