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Picture: 123RF/tomertu
Picture: 123RF/tomertu

SA’s creative marketing sector is its own worst enemy. We produce powerful campaigns to touch the hearts and minds of consumers, yet revel only in these campaigns’ creative wins, the fame they bring us and the awards they gather.

We perpetually emphasise creative output for the sake of creativity rather than for the sake of business impact.

In this sense, our ego is probably our biggest shortcoming. We have been too busy navel gazing, managing diva personalities and being fabulous to rectify the misperception that marketing is a soft science that adds little value to an organisation.

The upshot is that marketing has a challenged reputation in business today. Excellent creativity and outstanding business results aren’t mutually exclusive, but all too often these aspects become disconnected and rock star creativity is prioritised over campaign efficacy and impact.

Of course excellent creativity must be recognised, but what about the fundamental objective behind those very marketing efforts that strived to touch the hearts and minds of consumers – why isn’t that celebrated too?

We do what we do to help our clients drive brand awareness, nurture band equity and cultivate brand heritage. But ultimately we do what we do to help our clients sell more products or services. That underscores every single piece of marketing, award winning or not – to sell, sell, sell. As such, marketing inherently has strategic intent and is naturally aligned with a business’s bottom-line goals.

Despite this, many CEOs, financial directors, executives and organisational leaders remain blind to the value and potential of marketing. The prevailing corporate mindset is that marketing is just another cost centre, a grudge purchase, a necessary evil.

Probably the biggest reason for this has been the perceived lack of measurability in marketing in the past. CEOs would see the marketing department blowing millions a year but couldn’t see the return on investment and didn’t know how to measure that. The industry has advanced significantly since then, with digital and analytical tools – and their integration into traditional media – making marketing measurable and quantifiable.

Often it’s understood that a corporate can measure the front end of the marketing curve – in other words, the generating of awareness and enquiries. But there are so many other moving parts needed within a business to determine whether or not marketing has been effective.

For example, there’s little point driving service-based campaigns when you don’t have the right service support in-store to deliver on this promise. The same goes for internal operational efficiencies. All too often marketing does its job but is let down by internal capacity or process, which puts the campaign (and its perceived lack of results) in a bad light. Marketing needs the right support to ensure sales conversion and business success. It’s not a miracle pill.

The leaders who don’t see the strategic potential of marketing are the same ones who invest as little money as possible in their marketing departments, deliberately appointing the wrong people to marketing positions.

When these ill-equipped staff fail to deliver on strategic imperatives, the marketing function falls short, fuelling the organisational leader’s deep-held beliefs that marketing doesn’t work.

The only way to shift these misperceptions around the business role of marketing is for the industry to stand together and promote the strategic importance – and celebrate the strategic wins – of our campaigns. We need to create our own professional reputation.

This needs to happen throughout the marketing value chain, from varsity level to the level of the seasoned professional.

Educational institutions are increasingly bringing the strategic side through in their curriculums, but there is still a degree of polarisation, in that the creative student remains solely on that side and the business analytics student on their own side. We need a less fragmented approach to teaching marketing, with greater integration of the creative and business aspects.

The Marketing Association of SA is working to address this through its professional designations initiative, which it introduced specifically to augment the greater professionalism of the overall SA marketing industry. These designations relate to the years of experience held by the marketer, which ensures that a level of strategic competency is constantly maintained as the professional grows in their role.

This is a critical part of ensuring that the marketing value chain removes outdated perceptions of what marketing is.

The professionalism of marketing also speaks to the fact that the days of using the marketing department as a staff dumping ground are over. All too often staff without adequate portfolios are relegated to that department, where they have neither the skills nor the experience needed.

The old adage of the CEO asking his PA to handle marketing on the side rings true here. Marketing is not a side hustle, and it’s not where corporate dead wood goes to decompose either.

The unlimited potential of marketing as an organisational tool needs to be acknowledged at every level of business if marketing is to claim its rightful position in corporate SA as a fundamental strategic discipline on which the very success of businesses rests.

Sean McCoy is founder and executive director at HKLM and a council member and judge of the Marketing Achievement Awards. HKLM has partnered with the Marketing Achievement Awards to help elevate the function of marketing in delivering strategic impact and to ensure its recognition as a professional career that attracts high-calibre talent. For more information about the MAA Awards visit https://marketingawards.co.za/

The big take-out:

Too many business leaders are blind to the value and potential of marketing, mistakenly assuming that it is just another cost centre.


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