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I read a recent post written by Suzanne Lowe at The Expertise Marketplace titled "Is Marketing Talent Overrated?" Suzanne asks why we seldom hear the words "marketer" and "expert" in the same sentence.

I thought about the companies where I have worked, and how the marketers I worked with were treated, compared with the rest of the employees.

Maybe my sample is biased, but I cannot recall the marketing folks I worked with being viewed as "experts." Sadly, marketers were among the first to be purged when the business didn't live up to expectations.

Many factors come into play when evaluating the performance of marketers. In my industry (multichannel retailing), it is downright difficult to calculate the incremental value a marketer brings to the business.

Merchandisers, the folks who are the lifeblood of multichannel retailing, are easily measured. Every item they sell to the customer is measured. In stores, items measured in terms of sales per square foot. The best merchants consistently buy items that have a higher sales per square foot than the items everybody else purchases. In the online channel, outstanding merchants consistently buy product that has a higher conversion rate than other products. These metrics are easily obtained via standard company reporting.

Inventory managers, especially those in the direct channel, have many metrics to filter out good performers from poor performers. Those who purchase too much product have to liquidate the merchandise. These individuals are evaluated on the basis of markdown percentage. Other folks don't purchase enough merchandise, and consequently have too many lost sales. Both metrics are easily obtained via standard company reporting.

Online and email marketers are entirely metrics driven, to a point where almost no true "marketing" actually happens. The online marketer is literally trapped by metrics and has to test her way out of existing practices.

Database marketers evaluate everything on the basis of test and control groups. As long as an activity can be directly compared against another activity, the database marketer can measure it. This gives database marketers power within an organization.

All other marketers, however, struggle to prove their worth. There are an endless number of traps that put the marketer in a position of disadvantage. Take, for example, the marketer responsible for planning and executing a store event. He works hard to invite the best customers to the event. He offers a culinary experience second to none. He lines up an athlete, or actress, an individual who delivers a great speech, and stays late to sign autographs.

The next morning, the store manager looks at her numbers and observes that her store experienced a 1.2% increase in comp store sales. All other stores in her region experienced a 1.8% comp store sales increase. Did the event cause sales to decrease 0.6%, or did the event prevent a sales decrease on that day? Nobody can say, for certain, which is patently unfair to the marketer.

Other marketers face these challenges on a daily basis. A television commercial might cost $100,000. The CFO expects to see an increase of $500,000 net sales to pay for the advertising. How does anybody truly prove that the sales increase happened? Surveys, focus groups, and brand awareness studies provide hollow proof to employees who are measured every single day via company reporting. CFO's do not have patience for a marketer who seeks to "build the brand."

Marketers also face disadvantages that other employees don't have to deal with. Once a standard is set for marketing, it becomes a challenge to improve upon it. The stack of turtlenecks in a catalog that performed the best, historically, is likely to perform best in the future. The marketer may want to market the product on a model, but the creative presentation is unlikely to work, based on years of trial and error. Merchandisers, however, are constantly seeking new products, because customers expect new products. This gives the merchandiser many chances for success. The marketer, however, is likely to fail eight times in ten. When the marketer succeeds, she hits a homerun. Everybody notices this! Because homeruns are few and far between, the marketer may never get the chance to hit the home run.

The inability of the marketer to truly prove her value leads to skepticism, and quite possibly underappreciation. This has been my experience during the past two decades. However, the marketer can take steps to mitigate the challenges he faces:

  • First, the marketer can make it clear to everybody that he is there to support the efforts of the other employees in the organization. When viewed as a support mechanism, and not as a competitor, employees are likely to develop respect for the marketer and view the marketer as a partner.

  • Second, the marketer should partner with any and all analytical folks to find every single metric that implies that marketing efforts were successful. If is it impossible to truly quantify the impact of a marketing activity, the marketer and the analytical employee need to estimate what they believe happened, and do so in an unbiased manner, even if the estimated impact is negative.

  • Third, the marketer must keep a scorecard of all marketing activities during the course of the year. The marketer must partner with the analytical folks and the finance department to demonstrate that she drove $1,250,000 of sales during the year. Against a cost of $150,000, maybe this yields a net profit of $210,000. By partnering with the analytical and finance folks, the marketer is able to demonstrate her value to the organization. The CFO will be less likely to cut expense if she believes she will lose $210,000 of profit.

Marketers, for better or worse, need to find clever ways to measure their effectiveness.

Classic metrics like brand awareness can be discussed with other marketers in the blogosphere, where each marketer's opinion is respected among peers. Within the organization, however, the marketer can earn respect, and be appreciated, by speaking a language that other employees understand: the language of sales and profits.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Hillstrom is a database marketing executive with two decades' experience and the author of Hillstrom's Database Marketing: A Master's Complete Method for Success. Kevin's blog (www.minethatdata.com) covers topics in database, multichannel, catalog and online marketing.