Are Marketers Their Own Worst Enemy?

Modern marketers must hire for data scientists, social media experts, and content curators. A look at the biggest challenges marketing execs are facing today.


When I graduated from college, my first job title sounded very glamorous: “International Marketing Manager.” I was thrilled to tell my parents that my expensive business school degree would soon pay off.

The reality was that my job required pretty basic skills. I learned how to use a telex machine, identify cryptic acronyms for electronics components, and call distributors for price quotes. In 1983, touch typing, dialing a phone, and operating a fax machine where the only skills I needed to thrive in that role.

My, how times have changed. Things are clearly much different now for marketing professionals. Modern marketers must hire for data scientists, social media experts, and content curators–roles that few if any, universities currently teach. Furthermore, the days of thriving as a marketing leader who can only demonstrate a clear understanding of the Four P’s of marketing and draw big crowds at industry events are numbered. Today’s boards and CEOs expect marketing leaders to be tech-savvy, data-driven, strategic, and creative.

In an effort to hear the challenges directly from my marketing community, I recently conducted a qualitative study. Here is what I learned from forty-six CMOs:

  • The four biggest marketing leadership obstacles are a lack of self-management structures, persistent cross-departmental conflict, budget and resource constraints, and low technology acumen. As one CMO told us, “We are tired of our marketing team being treated like a McDonald’s drive-through window.” Second string status becomes even more pronounced for marketing leaders who are new to their roles.
  • The “second string” conundrum is fueled by multiple factors: budget constraints, increased customer influence in the buying and product management cycles, and a lack of knowledge regarding the implications of the new digital realities on their jobs.
  • Misalignment is most pronounced between marketing’s counterparts in sales and on the board. According to one participant, “Sales still views marketing simply as a set of tactics. We are neither allowed nor invited to provide the strategic insights Marketing can and should provide.”

Based on the findings and our ongoing conversations with CMOs within our private peer groups, here is what I concluded: the greatest enemy of the CMO may not be any of these challenges, but their lack of urgency around improving their condition. Only three of the respondents expressed commitment to addressing their challenges immediately, and ten were “very willing” within the next year. More than half of our respondents were “somewhat willing” or “not willing to address their challenges now.” Long-term, marketing leaders can thrive if they urgently commit to improving their condition.

Alan Weiss, my mentor of seven years, reminds us that “some of us are rooted in a poverty mentality, as if we’re trying merely to survive; some are in stability, feeling alive; some have an abundance mentality, feeling it’s good to arrive; and a few are in self-mastery, believing they can thrive. As we ascend, the key is to avoid sliding back, and to create water-tight, closed doors behind us.”

What aspects of your job resemble a telex machine, and which resembles a smartphone? It’s time to face the music and re-write your career narrative. In this report, I share numerous examples of marketing leaders who are hitting the right notes.

And, in my next post, I will showcase the four common qualities of today’s brilliant CMOs.

Related posts:

[Image: Flickr user Markus]

copyright 2013, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

This post originally appeared in FastCompany.

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