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Is Marketing hurting your company?

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The marketing department of almost any B2B company is a busy place. Its staff are, as a rule, hard at work trying to figure out what the market needs and match the content and offerings of the company to those needs. But could much of this hard work be misguided? Could it, in fact, be limiting your company’s potential?

Everyone knows that misguided marketing can, in some quite obvious ways, hurt the company it is supposed to support. For example, this has most recently happened in Scandinavia in connection with the current branding campaign for one of its largest banks. Designed to counter negative publicity and an image of increasing arrogance, the bank’s latest effort has resulted in a hail of public and staff criticism, both justified and unjustified, making things worse than ever. But there are other, less obvious ways in which marketing can hurt – or at least limit – a company.

The online environment, whose multiple and complex channels have B2B marketers stumbling around like rookie tourists in a wild jungle, favors credibility over propaganda, customer-centric messages over company-centric bragging, and expert knowledge and advice over marketing speak.

In essence, knowledge-intensive companies should thrive in this environment. After all, they already possess many of the qualities and content assets needed to succeed, such as numerous subject matter experts, buyers who are hungry for more information, and a natural passion about their work.

So where’s the problem? At many such companies, particularly those that work with complex products, the marketing departments act as an information filter, interviewing subject matter experts around the company then attempting to reduce this input into the rigid structure of the company’s website, a 16-page brochure or a trade show poster.

The point is, the real experience of a company’s know-how, its thought leadership and what it can really do for its customers and the industry as a whole, is usually much, much greater than the marketing filter allows it to show to the market. And this more profound experience is of extreme value to prospects and customers in today’s online, content and conversation-driven marketplaces.

It’s the equivalent of taking a large and wonderful Christmas present and stomping on it, pulling off many of its most interesting parts until it fits into a shoe box – because that shoe box is all you had around to wrap it in.

Perhaps this unfortunate situation is dictated by a long-held belief among marketers that everything coming from the technical side of the company (which they themselves can have trouble understanding) needs to be simplified, cut down, and reduced to a level where ordinary people can understand it. But as often as not, your company isn’t selling to ordinary people – or the same types as those who oversee the simplification process and who are content only when they themselves can understand the output.

The mutterings and grumbling of the R&D guys and gals, once considered to be based on the social shortcomings of techie nerds, seem to have had an actual point – but the marketing department missed it (or simply didn’t recognize its worth).

To some degree, maybe it’s the medium that is at fault. If Marketing’s efforts are based around certain formats – rather than the mindsets needed to communicate today not on but across multiple channels, then that dictates much of the customer experience. The point is that if Marketing departments do not recognize the resource sitting under their noses, and begin to involve subject matter experts more, for example, they will not be able to craft compelling content and execute a digital strategy that address the needs of buyers today.

Of course, I’m being a little harsh here. There is often a need for the Marketing filter – particularly in relation to the multiple profiles in a typical B2B buying constellation. But I believe more attention needs to be paid to communicating the real DNA of the company’s expertise base – filter free. The answer, I think, is to review the filter itself. Change and expand formats to be able to reflect the volume and diversity of a company’s expertise. Wherever possible, remove Marketing from conversations between internal subject matter experts and their counterparts in customer organizations. Work with social media to enable and exploit direct conversations between subject matter experts within the company and out at prospects or customers.

So give a moment’s thought to how marketing may, despite its best intentions, be hurting your company. How might you change things to more closely match the new realities of a market driven primarily by expert-to-expert, expert-to-novice, and novice-to-novice conversations going on outside your company?

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Jonathan Winch

Jonathan Winch

I’m Jonathan Winch, a partner at Copenhagen-based advertising agency Eye for Image and co-author of the book "The Death of Propaganda - B2B Buyer Behavior Has Changed. Now it's Your Turn". I've participated as a strategic and creative resource in the marketing and communication sphere for over 25 years, making contributions to the strategies and communications of companies of all sizes, the best known of which include Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Danisco, GN ReSound, Hempel, Nokia Siemens Networks, LEGO, Coloplast, and Johnson & Johnson.

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