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Managing Marketing Burnout

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The Hudson Group, a UK Recruitment firm, says that 44% of all marketers are facing burnout. A recent article in Brand Republic (August 1, 2005) reinforces one of my hypotheses: Today's marketers are being stretched beyond their limits.

The UK is feeling the backlash in the form of increasing absenteeism, job changes, poor morale and declines in productivity and quality of output. Do a quick poll of the marketers you know. It doesn't take rocket science to know marketing burnout is prominent in the US, as well.

Wanted: Marketer

Just a decade or so ago, typical marketing job descriptions stressed writing, communication, project management, agency management, advertising/promotions, collateral development, segmentation, modeling and quantitative skills.

Media buying, PR, partner and events management may have been critical to the job, as well—along with industry-related experience. As an adjunct competency, it was also common to see "proficiency with word processing software and Microsoft Office required."


Superhuman skill required, cape optional

In addition to the skills required 10 years ago, today's marketer must possess more sophisticated marketing skills and a slew of other core competencies. Along with a keen understanding of the creative development process, marketers today must demonstrate capability with business case development and project management. Quantitative analysis skills and the ability to evaluate and interpret customer data and behavior are now essential skills. Marketing departments are also seeking individuals who are familiar with database marketing, integrated marketing and various aspects of CRM.

Marketers today also require a much stronger level of comfort and proficiency in the use and application of technology, which extends far beyond basic computer skills.

Widespread use of the Web, email and wireless communications drive the need for marketers who possess an intimate understanding of technology-based channel dynamics, best practices and metrics. Expanding use and adoption of CRM and marketing automation technologies also drive the need for marketers who understand, at a basic or advanced levels, how to use new toolsets to drive campaign development, execution, reporting and analysis.

It's a superhuman expectation that any individual master skills in all areas. However, the fact remains that well-rounded, highly capable marketers possess an incredibly diverse combination of skill sets. In today's marketplace, it is common to underestimate or undervalue these skill sets. It's also easy to forget that it's in our own corporate interest to invest in marketers to build critical skills.

Available any time, in any channel

In the past, the cadence of marketing was dictated by the response times necessary for traditional offline channels and the telephone. Today's marketer must contend with the needs of a 24/7 competitive global marketplace. While agility and speed to market are essential, the hitch is this: Today's integrated, multi-channel marketing demands actually complicate the marketing process, and slow time to market.

Increasingly sophisticated (demographic, psychographic, behavioral) segmentation and "mass customization" practices are creating more personal, relevant messages. They're also creating more work for marketers: Instead of two versions of a welcome kit, there might now be five; instead of three versions of a newsletter, there might be 14. The increase in the number of customer messages being developed within marketing has driven an exponential increase in the number of development cycles being managed by marketing today. To complicate matters, mounting legal and privacy issues mandate more approval time and can extend the length of development cycles.

The proliferation of online and offline channels creates a unique set of challenges for marketers today. Customers now switch dynamically between online and offline channels and expect appropriate recognition and response at every turn. To create "seamless" customer dialog across channels, marketers must proactively anticipate customer choice, create a framework for messaging and response, and ensure messages are delivered and response is measured effectively across channels. In the quest to provide this seamless experience, they can encounter significant operational and technical barriers, which impact development cycles.

Able to leap tall silos in a single bound

Yesterday's marketing department often behaved as "an island unto itself," interfacing largely with a few internal departments and external agencies. Today's marketing departments coordinate and interface on a frequent basis with a mounting number of internal and external constituencies—IT, Finance, Analytics, Research, Product Development, Customer Service, Corporate Communications, Legal/Privacy, etc.—in addition to channel staff, agencies and other external partners.

To make matters worse, in today's business climate, the lines of demarcation, roles and responsibilities that exist in marketing groups and other departments have become cloudy. Yet, it is often the marketer's responsibility to sort through the chaos, leap over the confusion and drive through to meet deadlines. Very often, they succeed. But the mental, physical and business acrobatics necessary to produce every-day outcomes often result in exhaustion, frustration and poor morale.

Apply here?

Do marketers have a reason for burnout? Without question. It seems to be a natural outcome of an era of marketing transformation. Today, the organizational role, scope and power of the marketing department are being redefined. Areas of control and influence are being expanded. New areas of specialization and job focus are being created. Corporate infrastructures are being realigned. Systems are being modified and integrated. Old paradigms are being broken; new paradigms are being created. We're pioneering in new frontiers.

In the midst of this change, however, marketers have to find ways to produce—and survive! Beyond individual coping tactics, we must ask ourselves how corporations can help minimize the casualties in this brave new world. In my opinion, success hinges on good, smart leadership:

  • Smart leaders understand the impact market evolution is having, both on the marketer and the role and scope of marketing within the organization. They understand that to drive customer delight over the next decade the entire organization must be rallied. They recognize that marketing is likely to lead this charge, and seek to position the department and individuals accordingly.

  • Smart leaders know how to translate the plight of the marketer and the marketing organization to senior executives. They engage other leaders to break bottlenecks and improve the operational environment and business culture. They are advocates for accountability, effective process, standards and methodologies that help things run smoothly.

  • Smart leaders don't treat talent like a commodity. They recognize the skill sets of each individual and put them to work accordingly. They appreciate the contribution of creative, visionary, strategic thinkers and balance this vision with analytic thinkers who bring fact-based analysis to the table. They know when to stretch individuals beyond comfort zones—and when to acquire new talent. They appreciate the power of outsourcing and use it effectively to speed results, increase manpower and augment skill sets as necessary.

  • Smart leaders know the value of investing to retain good people. They work actively to attract, engage and retain people with the skills to get things done. They allocate dollars and time to ensure that training, education and knowledge sharing occur to expand team competencies and keep minds sharp. They implement performance-based incentive programs to ensure that results are rewarded and effort is recognized. They recognize the difference between everyday accomplishments and superhuman feats. They use real and emotional capital to reward performers individually in the ways that matter most.

  • Smart leaders understand that working smarter is more important than working harder. They understand that marketers must work with their heads more than they work with their bodies (going to meetings, taking notes, pushing reports). They know the difference between an effective workday and a long workday, and engrain within each employee a focus on working efficiently and accountably.

  • Smart leaders listen. They tune in to what people say and what remains unsaid. They consider individual, team and general morale. They know how to tap into an undercurrent of pessimism and infuse it with hope, relief, advocacy and understanding. They understand that the majority of problems that have an effect on marketing come from outside the marketing department, and respond as sympathetic and fierce advocates.

In summary, smart leaders serve as an important first line defense for burnout by helping protect organizations from the backlash of overwork and exhaustion. Over the next decade, attracting smart, capable leaders who can successfully drive improvement and change—while maintaining productivity within the marketing enterprise—will be critical to success.

In the meantime, we're in for a lot of turmoil, and more than our share of work!


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Leigh Duncan Durst (leigh at livepath dot net) is a 20-year veteran of marketing, e-commerce, and business and the founder of Live Path (www.livepath.net).

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