Performance Anxiety and the Modern Marketer

Today’s post is courtesy of Carla Johnson, CEO of Type A Communications. This post first ran on the Type A Communications blog September 30, 2014.

For all the change that’s taken place in how buyers buy, it’s no wonder that marketers feel uncertain. It’s not just about learning new skillsets and making sure teams are staffed and equipped with enough resources. It’s about realizing, understanding and then doing something about the new roles that we need to have as marketers and marketing departments.

BananaMan_Horizontal-2Research by the Fornaisse Marketing Group says that 73 percent of CEOs think that marketing lacks credibility. On the other side of the coin, 69 percent of marketers think that their strategies and campaigns do make an impact — they just don’t know how to prove it. This is because as marketers, we aren’t equipped to have conversations about the contribution we make to the overall performance of our companies, much less have those within the context of a business environment  (instead of a marketing environment). Much of the disconnect between marketing, executive teams and the rest of a company comes from marketers not understanding how our roles should integrate with every other aspect of the company.

This struggle doesn’t apply only to marketers in the trenches. In its research report, “The Transformative CMO,” the Korn/Ferry Institute points out that to become a “transformative” CMO, executives have to understand how the marketing function intertwines with every other function within the company. To be successful, these executives need to be able to drive change across the enterprise in an increasingly complex and unpredictable business environment.

Living in beta 

By the time we’ve witnessed, experienced, and documented a best practice, our customers have moved on to something else. A marketer’s nemesis isn’t our competitors, it’s our customers’ short attention span. Before we can think creatively about how we capture their attention and then keep it, we have to think differently about the role we, as marketers, have in our organizations.

Modern marketers face incredible change, and the pressure is only intensifying. The Business Marketing Association (BMA) and Forrester Research released their findings about the expanding role of marketing in B2B organizations. Ninety-seven percent of marketers said they expect the pace of change in their organization to accelerate, and 76 percent felt that their leadership judged success or failure faster. Other findings include:

  • 21% of marketers say the skills for which they were hired are now obsolete
  • 97% see a dramatic increase in the breadth of skills needed
  • 97% are doing things they’ve never done before
  • 45% can’t find candidates with the right skills

Insecurity and Paralysis

Companies that measure employee turnover and engagement understand that they affect customer satisfaction. But what the numbers don’t tell us it that a lack of clarity about how to do our work – or even what work to do – paralyzes us.

In a paper from The Conference Board titled “Performance Anxiety,” author Vadim Lieberman talks about how the statistic of job security misleads companies. While employees don’t feel like they’re always on the chopping block these days, they’re still feeling “frustration, confusion, tension and stress…” And that affects their confidence and performance, not to mention creativity and willingness to take risks. “You can’t feel confident about doing something when you’re unsure exactly what that something should be.”

Tie this back to the report findings from BMA and Forrester: if marketers don’t know what to do and feel insecure, how can we find and recruit top talent to join our teams? How do they train for their positions? And how to we elevate marketing’s influence and leadership within our organizations?

We can’t. And that’s what paralyzes marketers.

But growth (both personal and professional) come from the courage to try new ideas, test new approaches and thinking unconventionally. That requires us to examine our perceptions about marketing’s role and why we’re the ideal people to spearhead change. We need to appreciate uncertainty and see its opportunity, because comfort and growth can’t coexist.

Feel the fear, but do it anyway 

We can’t convince executive leadership of the value we deliver to our organizations unless we believe it ourselves. Believing in ourselves and what we bring to the table is the only way that we marketers will snap out of paralysis.

Because our environment has changed so dramatically many marketers feel fearful and take the safe route with their careers and their corporate initiatives. The result is a “play it safe” mentality that results in uninspired ideas and work. While we won’t offend anybody, we’re squandering precious opportunities to create experiences that delight our customers in new and captivating ways.

Marcus Sheridan talks about The Honest Economy — how transparency separates the teachers from the information hoarders. Jay Baer is changing our thinking from hype to help. We’re seeing debates about creating agile learners, imagination at work and the future of marketing. These ideas capture and inspire us because they’re unexpected. And they work in ways that traditional marketing techniques don’t anymore.

Modern Leaders

No other group within a company has the opportunity to touch all the rest and bring them together like marketing. Rather than taking the safe route, the new marketing leader needs to be able to sit at the executive table and lead strategic conversations about the growth of their organizations. They need to get comfortable with both accountability and change, becoming agile problem solvers in the process. Great marketers step beyond their areas of responsibility and transform their organizations. They spend time learning the operational and financial details of their company, while also immersing themselves in the world of their customer so that they can gain insights and new perspectives. They’re perpetually curious, which makes it easier to transition from a tactical marketing role to that of a trusted advisor and strategic partner at the executive level.

This is an amazingly exciting time to be in marketing. You might find your company waking up and welcoming the ideas you bring to the table, encouraging you to think bigger and broader. Or you may have doors slammed in your face. The point is, quit being a passive participant in your career and your profession.

Now’s the time to move into the modern world of marketing. Be brave, have fun, and, most importantly, embrace the chaos.

Author: Carla Johnson @CarlaJohnson is CEO, Type A Communications 

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