Greg E. Stine
Quite frequently, a company's success or failure is directly tied to the effectiveness of its marketing efforts. Whether a company has a dedicated marketing manager, or the owner wears the marketing manager hat, this role is one of the most critical functions in any company.
Over the years with Polaris, I have worked with many marketing managers and small business owners, and I believe that I have a unique perspective on their performance. I have observed and worked with great, mediocre and (I'm sorry to say) terrible marketers in this critical role. Here, without a doubt, are the first five of the ten most important qualities of a great marketing manager.
1. A Vision Creator
Great marketing managers are vision creators. One of the most important steps in introducing a product or service successfully to the marketplace is to create a clear, focused concept of their product or service. To accomplish this, marketing managers must be able to wade through the products or services that their company sells, find its edge in the marketplace, and simplify its features and benefits so that they are easily understood. They don't necessarily need to create the exact words used in the pitch, but it is important for them to be able to communicate the vision clearly to others.
This ability to communicate the vision clearly will give the creative resources, internal sales people, senior management, the production team people, and all the other people who actually perform the work or sell the product a clear understanding of what to do when working on anything related to the product. It will also ensure that they are all communicating the same thing so the campaign does not become disjointed along the way. For example, a marketing manager with a clear vision may say to their advertising agency, "Our company will be selling a new product. This product will be more expensive than the competition, but it's a more durable product and it's easier to use - saving time and money. This is our edge in the marketplace." When the agency receives this type of focused direction, they will have a clear picture of how to create effective marketing materials.
Great marketing managers also understand the importance of presentation. Ensuring success, sometimes means that the actual product or service needs to change in some way to make it more accessible or inviting to the marketplace. Because of this. good marketing managers will often influence the way the product or service is produced or delivered. They may even alter the core of the product to take advantage of a weakness in the marketplace. Remember, marketing is about perception, not necessarily reality. Just because it's a great product, doesn't mean anyone will want to buy it. (To stimulate your thinking on this subject, take a look at a great book: The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.)
Steven Jobs and the Apple iPod are a brilliant example of packaging a focused vision and attacking the marketplace with it. Even though the iPod is basically a typical PDA with the capacity to play music (it has a calendar, phone book, and alarm clock like most PDAs), they’ve distinguished themselves by packaging the product to reflect a cool, hip lifestyle and sold for two to three times what a Palm Pilot goes for.
To complement this effort, Apple is also selling downloadable music from their website (iTunes) and trying to create the first profitable music downloading business. Part of the brilliance in their overall strategy is that they don’t need to make big money from downloading. After all, to quote Steve Jobs, “Hey, we don’t really have to make a lot of money on the music. We’re selling iPods.”
A clear, focused vision is essential for an effective marketing program.
2. A Strong Ego
In my years working with business and marketing managers, I have found that generally a "design by committee" approach produces terrible marketing programs. When a committee creates a vision or strategy, the results are usually full of compromise, which makes the vision unfocused, diffused, without edge, and flat. If implemented in the marketplace, the result is similar to that of using a dull knife -- it doesn't cut into the marketplace and you lose your potential share.
Instead, one person with courage, creating a vision, is almost always stronger than a group effort.
This is not to say that a marketing manager should be an island. Effective and successful marketing managers listen to people inside and outside of the company. They listen to their customers, co-workers, senior management, and salespeople. By having their ears open, marketing managers better understand the marketplace. But at the same time, they must have strong enough self-confidence to wade through the varying opinions, make up their own mind as to the direction to head, and be able to say, "This is where we're going, follow me!"
Sam Walton, the late founder of Wal-Mart, was a great example of this type of person. Those with him in the early days describe him as impervious to failure. When a particular campaign was less than effective, he was the first person on Monday morning to say, “Well that didn’t work. What’re we doing this week?” He had a vision for the company for the future and wouldn’t accept anything less.
Unfortunately, sometimes the best marketing managers are arrogant in their belief that they have the right answer. Actually, they may NOT know the right answer. But, even if a clear vision is off-target, it is almost always more effective than a diffused, less focused vision. And while these individuals may be somewhat headstrong or excessively confident about their ideas, their self-confidence and ability to put up with the critics, the "beefs," and the "yeah-buts," all the while pushing the vision forward, usually helps to sell their ideas effectively.
3. An Artistic Eye
All the great marketing managers that I have worked with have an artistic eye. Most of the communication that happens between the marketplace, prospects, and the company is visual. However, the marketing manager's role is NOT to create the visual elements. Good marketing managers let those who have been trained in design and presentation do this. However, it's important that they have a good sense of visual style -- especially within their market
Effective imagery in print, literature and on the web goes a long way in communicating the essence of a company. Marketing managers should know whether the visual style created by their agency feels right to the marketplace, describes the company well, and supports their brand. This does not mean an effective marketing manager needs to be an artist. I have worked in this business for over a decade and I definitely am not an artist. However, I have learned from the artists around me how to recognize good visual composition, what makes a great photograph, and what makes effective brand-marks. An effective marketing manager has these same skills. At times, marketing managers are like local head sheriffs among the people they work with, including the design agency, internal administrative staff, and the sales staff—they must make sure that projects don't wander from the visual style. A good agency won't need much policing, but in this day and age, everyone thinks they are a designer.
It's important that marketing managers look, study, and listen in order to keep up with the visual styles in their marketplace. I encourage marketing managers to spend time studying trade publications of their industry, thinking about the effectiveness, quality and look of the material. If you feel like this is a personal weakness, there are many ways to improve your own artistic eye. Subscribe to an advertising or design publication like Communication Arts or Print Magazine. Designers use these publications not only to observe cutting edge design trends, but also to inundate themselves visually with what's happening in different marketplaces.
A client of ours, Judi Ettlinger, Marketing Director for Truitt and White is a brilliant marketing professional who knows what she wants visually for her company. The result is that Truitt and White’s branding and visual consistency is outstanding – and their dominance in their marketplace is not unrelated to her work. We know that when it comes to the visual side of marketing projects, Judi will have a critical eye -- but it keeps us sharp and more importantly, protects the Truitt and White brand.
4. Understands Their Market and Their Customers
Good marketing managers need to have a very strong understanding of what is happening in the marketplace and what influences people's buying decisions.
Often, marketing managers are new to the industry they are now working in. These managers work hard to study the industry, visit their customers, talk to the people in the field, and talk to their sales people. It takes work to obtain a clear understanding of the people who are making buying decisions. Understanding your market and your customer base is critical to creating the essential clear vision.
When a marketing manager misunderstands the customer or the reasons why they purchase a product or service, the marketing strategy will be off-target. If they don't know why consumers buy their product, then the marketing strategy they create will be ineffective. I've seen this happen a number of times.
A few years ago we developed a process (we call it a Brand Study) for helping our clients better understand their marketplace and their customers. When we perform a Brand Study, we ask their core clients what is good and bad about this company. We ask questions about their pricing, their customer service, and what the company can do to improve. We target core customers who are the bread and butter of the company and we work to get into their minds -- we want to understand why they buy from this company. When we understand why a few customers are so dedicated, we can use that information to help a company focus on finding more customers with the same needs.
A Brand Study helps a company create a marketing strategy (that vision thing, again) that targets prospects that are similar to their core customers. The only way the company can do this is by understanding its market, customers and prospects. It is amazing how often companies truly do not understand why their customers actually purchase their products or services.
5. Understands the Fundamentals of Branding, Marketing, and Advertising
Some say marketing is the art of persuasion, but in many ways it is not an art as much as a science.
The fundamentals of marketing and advertising are well known. The role of print ads within a marketing campaign, the function of public relations within a marketing campaign, reasonable goals for a direct mail campaign—all have well known answers derived from historically proven results. Good marketing managers should know these answers, make their plans and goals align with them, and weigh the risks of diverting from them with full knowledge of the possible consequences.
Should a marketing manager not understand the basics of advertising, creating consistently effective campaigns is near impossible. One of the mistakes most often made in these cases is marketing to customers with campaigns built around features or proofs of the product or service, instead of the benefits. Unfortunately for them, it’s the benefits that sell, so they never truly reach the prospect. The prospect is simply left asking, "Why should I care about this stuff?" (To learn more about advertising fundamentals, take a look at a great book: Ogilvy on Advertising.)
For example: Anti-lock brakes are not a benefit when buying a specific car, they are a feature. The specifications for the brakes may be proof to the prospect that the brakes will actually work in the manner they were designed. The proof of this may include technical literature, or supporting advertising that explains how anti-lock brakes work. The benefit in this example (which is at the heart of any good marketing program) is that the brakes will not lock up, allowing you to stop more quickly, under control, and NOT DIE. Living is the benefit!
There are a lot of good resources for understanding the principles of branding. Most of the books and articles I’ve read teach fairly similar concepts. I myself wrote a series of articles outlining my “Nine Branding Truths,” and I also do not hesitate to recommend a great book by Al and Laura Ries titled: The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.
This is the first article in a two-part series on marketing managers. For Qualities 6-10 of great marketing managers see Ten Qualities of Great Marketing Managers (Part 2).
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