Inspired by… explaining what you do

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I follow a lot of political journalists on Twitter and, as insightful as their Tweets are, it’s often more fun reading through the responses they get, particularly when they have opinions on divisive topics. Jeremy Corbyn, bless his cotton beard, is one of those topics. To tweet something either…

I follow a lot of political journalists on Twitter and, as insightful as their Tweets are, it’s often more fun reading through the responses they get, particularly when they have opinions on divisive topics. Jeremy Corbyn, bless his cotton beard, is one of those topics. To tweet something either positive or negative about Corbs is to open oneself up to a barrage of comments from either the true believers or the sneering sceptics, sometimes funny, often angry and in some instances wildly deluded.

This isn’t trolls I’m talking about. The racist, homophobic, misogynistic internet zealots have no value at all in social media discourse and should be ignored as much as possible. What I’m talking about are the large numbers of essentially well-meaning, politically engaged and probably very nice people who have just enough knowledge to make themselves look very foolish when tweeting political journalists.

As a case in point, here’s my favourite exchange of the week:

We can forgive Kevin Schofield’s astonishment here. The inanity of Graeme Burrell and his attempt to expose the #SloppyJournalism of accurately quoting a spokesman for a political leader and thus proving the mainstream media conspiracy against Jezza is pretty funny. But the bit where is gets cringey – and is so inspiring to me – is the bit where he quotes the journalism website to make his case. Makes me shudder a bit.

Thus, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Graeme thinks that because he ‘knows’ this ‘rule’ about having two sources he is getting one over on the ‘so-called’ journalist. But Kevin is an actual journalist and genuinely knows that checking with Corbyn to make sure he agrees with what his spokesman said he thinks is a ludicrous waste of time.

Nevertheless, this got me thinking: often there is a big gap between what you do and what people think you do. There are some jobs that are very straightforward in their definitions: teacher, nurse, builder, plumber. They are most certainly not easy jobs, but they are conceptually easy to grasp. Then there are jobs that we all pretty much understand, even if we don’t know what actually doing that job involves: lawyer, banker, accountant, engineer. And then there are the jobs that are both difficult to explain both in terms of day-to-day practicalities and in terms of function: programmer, management consultant, research analyst, politician.

I’d tentatively put ‘marketer’ into the third category. It’s broadly true that marketers don’t do a brilliant job of explaining what they do and why they do it to a non-marketing audience. This in no way means marketing is a worthless profession; rather, it reflects the fact marketing is a creative, complex, often theoretical job where input and output are not always tangible. I think this is partly what causes the longstanding sales/marketing conflict. Ask a salesperson what their function is, and they have an easy answer: sell stuff. If a marketer then says her job is to create the right conditions in which the salesperson can sell stuff, it’s both more long-winded and harder to prove. Thus, sales win the big contracts, get pats on the back and pounds in the purse; and when marketers pipe up that they helped too, they’re told to go back to their colouring-in.

This is a bit of an exaggeration of course, and certainly not an argument that marketers should feel sorry for themselves. But the problem is, if people don’t understand what you do – like the journalist and the tweeter above – it’s easier for them to get the wrong idea and even goes so far as to explain your own job to you.

I’m sure most marketers have at least one story of an occasion where they’ve been told: ‘Oh, marketing’s all just brochures, isn’t it?’ or ‘Marketing’s just about annoying adverts’ or ‘Marketing is just a waste of money’ or something similar. When it next happens, don’t just bang your head on your desk and bitch to other marketers. Have an answer ready. What do you do?


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