The State of Marketing: Why Most Marketers Don’t Know What They’re Doing

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In episode 640 of The Business Storytelling Show, I interviewed Greg Stuart, CEO at MMA Global, about the state of marketing today. Stuart says that most marketers don’t really know what they’re doing, sparking a discussion about the knowledge gaps, misinformation, and lack of data plaguing the industry.

As Greg explains, his provocative statement does not imply that marketers are incompetent, but rather that the marketing profession as a whole has yet to fully evolve. He points to several factors impeding marketing’s growth. But certainly there’s hope for the future of marketing.

Lack of Training and Skills

A primary issue is an absence of proper training and skills development in key areas like measurement, attribution, data, and AI. Marketing lacks established frameworks and methodologies rooted in hard evidence. Greg compares it to medicine in the mid-1800s, when practices like bloodletting were commonly used despite doing more harm than good. Marketers today similarly rely more on intuition and conventional wisdom rather than proven science.

As Greg bluntly states, “There are things that we think we know, that just aren’t so.” The problem is compounded by the fact that marketers can be incredibly articulate at explaining anything, regardless of factual accuracy. Greg shares an anecdote about working at an agency where the motto was “Be wrong, but be strong” when presenting to clients. This epitomizes marketing’s tendency to seem more authoritative than warranted.

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Lack of Data and Attribution Models

Central to many of marketing’s knowledge gaps is an absence of comprehensive data and measurement. He details the MMA’s   initiative to study long-term brand impact versus short-term sales results, which required developing an entirely new attribution model tracking individuals’ brand exposure, attitudes, and purchasing over time.

While marketers espouse the importance of brand building, most CFOs remain skeptical without hard ROI figures. In other words, marketers talk about the value of brands, but don’t necessarily have had the evidence to back up their claims.

These types of multi-year brand studies have simply never been undertaken at scale in the industry before. The initial findings demonstrate how brand favorability today results in substantially higher sales when projected over a two-year period compared to performance marketing. As Greg emphasizes, this allows CMOs to present CFOs with concrete data when deciding marketing investment trade-offs between long-term brand equity versus short-term returns.

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No Agreement on Marketing Strategy

Beneath these knowledge gaps lies an even more fundamental issue – the industry does not agree what marketing’s purpose and strategic focus should be. Greg reveals how in a closed-door session with CMOs from GM, Dunkin, Allstate and other major brands, they failed to reach consensus after an hour of discussion on marketing’s remit. This prevents coherent CXO alignment and breeds conflicts that undermine CMOs.

Greg says viable marketing strategies include: transactional/direct-to-consumer, brand, and customer experience (CX). Through statistical analysis, MMA determined CX currently delivers results and should be a primary strategic orientation. However, CEOs often mismatch CMO capabilities to strategy, jeopardizing outcomes. Surprisingly though, these core strategies lack industry clarity, unlike other functions (e.g. CTO skills clearly differ whether one focuses on front-end vs back-end programming).

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Lack of Marketing as a Profession

Ultimately for Greg, marketing has yet to cement itself as a true profession with established training, competencies, standards and practices. Doctors previously faced similar issues until formalizing extensive medical training and licensing requirements. Without such professionalization and consensus on foundational knowledge, the industry spins in many directions without advancing collectively.

Key Future Opportunities

While Greg paints a sobering picture of marketing’s current state, he remains optimistic around areas like AI which he believes can transform competitive advantage. MMA research on AI personalization already indicates average ad effectiveness improvements. As Greg notes, most marketers would drop everything to chase even marginal efficiency gains, underscoring AI’s monumental potential.

He advises marketers focus on building frameworks to facilitate effective AI adoption across three horizons:

  • efficiency (e.g. personalized content)
  • productivity (e.g. optimized media placement)
  • game-changing innovation we can’t yet envision, akin to how Uber disrupted transportation norms.

The need for more strategic consensus also represents a chance to align around core marketing strategies and capabilities. As Greg states, “We have to try to answer what we think are these very major questions in an unbiased way.” MMA aims to support this through its research programs, events and network for continual skills development.

There is clearly significant work still required for marketing to evolve into a profession with the standards and evidence-based practices seen in medicine, engineering and law. However, a future fueled by advanced analytics, AI and nuanced measurement may accelerate marketing’s maturation. As Greg concludes, “I think it’s going to happen really fast here.” Marketers should seize this opportunity to lead the charge.

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