I always find it refreshing to talk about our industry with friends outside of it. One hears brilliant thoughts such as, “I tried TikTok once and it’s rubbish”, or, “The clueless parents in The Boss Baby worked in marketing, tells you all you need to know”, or a recent favourite, “Why am I constantly being advertised sex toys?” Why indeed.

But aside from the stream of consciousness and critiques that I’ve received over the years from people from all walks of life outside of our bubble, there is one constant theme that emerges. And that is, that our marketing-related jobs come across as deeply unserious. “What is it you actually do?” is a common refrain I’m sure many of us are familiar with. And the kicker? It’s not just Joe Public who thinks that. It’s also your colleagues outside of marketing, at your company. Yours and mine, both.

Granted on the surface it is a charge that seems difficult to refute. Speaking for my own brand(s) just this past year… let’s see. Yep, we did a whole thing about flying goats for Virgin Media. Then O2 coupled up with Love Island as the show’s official network partner. And then two weeks ago we sent an absurdly large oil painting for O2 and England Rugby to the Louvre to tease the French ahead of the Rugby World Cup. I mean we definitely did do some serious stuff but, also, we spent a lot of time, (too much?), laughing.

Yet all of this activity performed admirably. Consumers loved it. It pains me then when we’re unable to shift perceptions among net detractors of our efforts. And it’s almost beside the point if we’re not being credited with its success. This credibility gap between performance and perception, this paradox, lies in stark contrast to our industry-wide penchant for showering ourselves in glory. Inside the bubble, we are God’s gift to creativity and capitalism. (Listening to George Carlin is the antidote.) Outside the bubble, it’s astonishing to realise how much we marketers suck at marketing ourselves. 

Every marketer should listen to George Carlin’s “Advertising Lullaby” at least once in their career.

We don’t always help ourselves. For instance, the other day I sat through a presentation with a venn diagram that said “Art”, “Science”, and in the middle, “Magic”. And this in the context of nebulous short-term attribution and repeated reports of low consumer trust in advertising. It triggered a mild existential crisis. Christ, if I’m thinking this is a load of wank, what on Earth will the commercial team think? And therein lies the conundrum. 

Our job as marketers is to create value for our business. And value we do create. There are reams of evidence for this. Research abounds. Hundreds of Harvard Business School case studies. Econometric results that regularly attest to the importance of a strong brand presence. Brand consideration scores correlated to increases in NPS, as imperfect as NPS may be. Even upswings in stock prices, which factor-in future growth, can be considered a measure of a brand’s long-term impact. Just ask McDonald’s. And yet, the open secret about our industry is that we are terrible at conveying our worth. That in turn begets reactions to our work ranging from out-and-out cynicism to the let’s-slash-the-marketing-budget nuclear option we all dread.

Well, hogwash! I, for one, won’t stand for it. And so in the safe confines of the bubble, I’m here to bravely proffer a handful of solutions. Taken together, they should help the cause. Ask yourself the following:

Do you spend any time educating or training up colleagues outside of marketing? Even the basics are often poorly understood. They don’t know what they don’t know! I particularly appreciate cross-functional team projects, (never thought I’d utter those words), because as an ambassadorial marketing presence you can at once be sounding board and soothsayer, while providing a forum to elevate and respond to our particular set of challenges.

Along similar lines, do you simplify marketing-speak when presenting work outside of marketing? Ours is a depressing language, filled with jargon, acronyms, and other meaningless terminologies to the outside world. (I still remember my first day working on a P&G brand being given an actual multi-page glossary to study.) Nobody wants to sound dumb asking what a CPMCV means, senior bods least of all. Speaking plainly should be one of our most cherished virtues.

Do you ever consult or involve your fellow non-marketers in the marketing process? Too often we are perceived as being highbrow, up our own arses or – conversely – merely the colouring-in department. Letting them know their perspective is valued (i.e. genuinely attempting to address their feedback instead of rage-deleting that email) and giving them a peak behind the curtains of what we do can work wonders to tear down barriers. 

Do you showcase your success stories, do you go on internal roadshows? Because I can assure you most do not give a crap about your latest self-congratulatory awards trophy. They will however take pride and hold a vested interest in a narrative of brand success. Doing this regularly, widely, and in combination with underscoring your project’s alignment to the wider business objectives and mission, is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal.

How transparent are you about our marketing spend? Our work can easily seem frivolous because, in my experience, (haters gonna hate on this), those outside of marketing typically misgauge true marketing costs and have a poor grasp of the production ins-and-outs and various channel complexities of how we allocate our budgets. If you can show where the money is going and how it’s contributing, they may be more inclined to appreciate its value.

At Virgin Media O2, we do our best to take these small steps collectively as a marketing team. Because in time, and with persistence and consistency, we have found they will build up the credibility your marketing team deserves.

Johnny will be writing a regular column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.