“We’re so much more than t-shirts and buttons!”

This is an all too familiar refrain heard among marketing team leads. Whether expressed in the board room or screamed internally, it’s often in response to leaders who mistake marketing for advertising or promotion. Even when those decisions are well-intentioned, many marketing professionals often find they’re at the receiving end.

Chris Walker, CEO of Refine Labs, wants you to find a company that “gets” marketing. In a bold video statement on LinkedIn, he asserts that “if you work in an organization that doesn’t understand marketing and you work for leaders that make those decisions, you will get pushed to do stuff that makes no sense, it will slow down your career, you will spend more time justifying decisions than actually doing marketing, […] more time debating things in board rooms than actually helping customers.”

Short of a career change, what’s the solution? How can a marketing professional show the value of their function to well-intentioned leaders using an outdated or incomplete marketing playbook?

Realize that not all great minds think alike.

I recently connected with Kim Lawrence, vice president of talent and customer experience with BC firm Ideon Technologies. She reminded me that the key to success in internal advocacy may be as simple as a shift in perspective.

According to Kim, the tendency to sideline marketing is “rooted in a lack of understanding and education around what the discipline of marketing is all about. There are assumptions made about where you come in, where the value is added, and those assumptions come from other experiences.”

It’s normal to feel angst when you feel your potential value is reduced in scope or depth, but Lawrence cautions us, “the first place to start is not to be defensive about it. A lot of us make assumptions about our colleagues. If they hired you, they must think about your work the same way you do. But if you think about your own experience, what do you know about anybody’s true vocation?”

As marketers, we’re well-versed in tailoring messages for our target audiences. Broadcasting product information alone isn’t enough to elicit the desired action. We must:

a) discover what problem our audience wants to solve,

b) determine what their pain points are, and then

c) craft a relevant message that addresses their problem.

Always seek to engage your audience where they are and on their own terms.

Treat your leaders as an audience.

To cultivate respect from internal stakeholders for the value of marketing, Kim suggests that “you can apply the principles of marketing to your own challenges in influencing people to look at what you do differently.” Are you going into a meeting with the c-suite? Don’t parry requests for t-shirts and buttons with cold statistics alone. Think about the desired outcome of your conversation as a marketing objective and the shift in thinking as a customer journey.

Tell stories with purpose.

“You can’t just vomit propaganda on people,” says Kim. “You have to start with a really compelling story, and you have to deliver it to the right person at the right time in the right way so that they’re compelled to listen and take action.”

“Don’t be so proud that you don’t address that immediate need, in order to open a much richer conversation about the future,” says Kim.

Your leadership may be receptive to your message, but (as in marketing), engagement and conversion aren’t guaranteed. They may not be ready to have that conversation until their immediate needs are met. Kim recommends we don’t approach those opportunities defensively, but instead with an open mind and our ‘marketers hat’ firmly on.

Recommended by Kim:

This article was written by one of our talented IABC Calgary volunteers.

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