successful marketer

There are ten character traits that combine to make marketers better, says Marketing Week Mini MBA founder and columnist Mark Ritson. Speaking today (June 10) at Marketing Festival: Fast Forward, he explained why a rule-breaking mentality, curiosity and willingness to choose are the hallmarks of successful marketer.

1. Empathy

“The central concept of marketing is the concept of market orientation, the ability to understand the customer,” Ritson told the festival audience.

“Our main goal is not to do digital media or artificial intelligence. Our main job is to bring the voice of the consumer into the organization. No one but marketers does that.”

Ritson recommends a “180 turnaround,” where companies pivot to look at themselves from the perspective of their customers.

“It sounds so simple, but most companies never do it,” he said. This process can show the market and perceived competitors in a completely different context. It can also reveal a profound misunderstanding of what people outside the marketing industry need or want.

2. Curiosity

A sense of curiosity is extremely important to marketers, Ritson argues. He described how Philippe Pascal, the former head of LVMH’s watch and jewelry division, required his marketers to have “street smarts,” a trait that is nurtured in curiosity that allows them to constantly ask customers and salespeople what’s going on and why.

According to Ritson, they had an unquenchable desire to “stick their noses in,” to learn about businesses and their customers, and a natural desire to understand things.

“We’re obsessed with communications and tactics. It’s only a third of what we do,” he added.

Before tactics comes strategy, and before strategy comes diagnostics. That’s where curiosity comes in.

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3. Comfort with inaccuracy

Mentioning this trait can be perplexing. When Ritson gives the Mini MBA final exam, he uses an example in which the numbers intentionally don’t add up. The test is meant to reflect the real struggle of balancing the books – and marketing budgets – in a company.

“About 15% of the class doesn’t get it. They never take this test. They go back and forth trying to solve this problem and never move on to the next stage of the exam,” Ritson explains.

“The thing about marketing, believe me, is that it’s not a fucking science. It’s a rounded business,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

While top-level marketers have enough confidence to accept the numbers as good enough and move on, those who get hung up on the details won’t get past the middle level, Ritson believes. Instead, they will get stuck in the “hamster wheel” of evasiveness.

4. Find the time

“The biggest obstacle to marketers executing strategy and getting their work done is that they are bogged down in tactics,” Ritson says.

Bad marketers, he argues, never take their eyes off the tactics long enough to engage in forward planning for the next year.

The ability to make time for planning is a key trait of good marketers. “Good marketers seem to have more minutes in the day, and bad marketers always say, ‘I don’t have time to plan,'” Ritson added.

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5. Long-term vision

The classic marketing balance between the long-term growth provided by brand marketing and the short-term sales gains provided by performance marketing has plagued many marketers. Together, long-term and short-term interventions produce optimal results.

“So many marketers still can’t do a good job of building a long-term brand and why are they spending too much money on short-term activation?” – Ritson asks. “The simple answer is that most companies plan a 12-month cycle. The red line of sales activation is so much more attractive in terms of ROI than the blue line of brand building that we neglect it.”

Marketers who rely too heavily on short-term ROI succeed in the first year, but lose in the second, third and fourth years.

6. Short-term results

Ritson quoted PepsiCo Vice Chairman and CFO Hugh Johnston, who said: “Any idiot can do short-term and any idiot can do long-term. The trick is to do both.”

Ritson believes that most people can’t do both long-term and short-term marketing, and suggests that most people hire an extra character.

“Most marketers may have a long-term vision, but they’re pretty damn useless at providing numbers,” he added. “They don’t understand that if you’re not providing the numbers, you’re useless to the organization.”

7. Selectivity

According to Ritson, selectivity is a terrible word, but an important concept. Illustrating his point with Apple designer Joni Ive’s explanation of how Steve Jobs demanded focus, Ritson explained that strategy is really about sacrifice.

Many top-level decisions come down to what not to do rather than what to do. Too many brand codes and too many goals means drift, he argued.

“Research shows: you need four or five goals. That’s the magic number. Any more and they turn into dreams that will never come true,” Ritson said.

8. Make it look simple

“When you come up with a strategy, the thinking and the work is complicated, but what you create at the end, the plan, the strategy itself, should be simple enough that anyone can follow it,” Ritson explains.

Showing footage of General Eisenhower explaining the invasion strategy to a group of Marines on D-Day, Ritson noted that while it took three years to plan the details of the attack, the concept was simple enough to explain in a few moments.

“The highest praise you can get from your team is, ‘This strategy is pretty simple,'” Ritson said.

9. Breaking the rules

“We can get carried away with this attempt to be bold,” Ritson warned. “We’re not really that bold.”

At the heart of good marketing, however, is the ability to transgress and break the rules, he added. If all brands strive to be different, they must be able to defy category norms and break rules.

10. Learning and Adaptation

The first slide in a marketing plan when it comes to a brand’s second year should be a review of what happened last year, Ritson insists.

“The analysis should show what you did well, what you did poorly, whether you achieved your goals, whether you didn’t. And most importantly, what you learned in your first 12 months in the market,” he advises.

Learning and adapting should be the last trait of a good marketer because it makes you smarter, Ritson added: “Learn yourself in the marketplace by learning and adapting as you go. If you do that for 20 or 30 years, you’ll become a damn good marketer.”

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