Recently coming across my notes again of this year's Thinking Digital 2015 conference back in May, I saw something I'd wrote down from Herb Kim. Speaking to Tim Leberecht at the time, Herb mentioned something akin to 'marketing is often seen as a bad department, as although it looks like a nice department, they often play on human emotions to get results'.
At the time, I remember being quite taken aback by that. I'd not heard many people refer to it that way before. And reading it again, I've had the same feeling.
An unconventional approach to marketing
As Leighton's Digital Engagement Strategist, I'm part of the company's marketing department, yet I don't think of us as a team who a) are a 'bad' department or b) play on human emotions (in any negative way) for the benefit of a business.
And I don't believe that's because I'm being naive or burying my head in the sand. I've never felt that way about marketing departments.
What I do think it's potentially because of, however, is my view of marketing. I never set out to be a 'marketer'. My growing involvement within the entire industry has been very much organic, starting as a freelance writer and gradually becoming more and more involved in marketing activities, bringing me to my most recent positions within SEO and digital marketing in general.
By taking this approach, I've always found my focus to be on something separate - customer experiences or the user journey, for example - with marketing coming as a secondary consideration. As such, I've never had that awareness others seem to have had when it comes to marketing; a belief, as Herb essentially put it, that marketing isn't the best of departments.
For me, marketing is one of the best departments. I fully appreciate that may be somewhat of a biased call, but my view of marketing is that it brings together and plays on all of the necessary components to deliver something that truly benefits the end user.
It looks at development. It looks at design. It looks at project management. How can we create either an on-going strategy or an individual campaign that will satisfy the audience?
It's not about 'tricking' them or trying to get them to do something they're not expecting. If you ask anyone at Leighton to summarise what we do, chances are you'll hear 'customer experience' being mentioned in some way, shape or form - and this, in my eyes, is what marketing is all about, delivering an unrivalled experience that encourages customers to enter the sales funnel because they want to, not because they're forced to.
Having come to marketing in a non-traditional style, I don't want to play on human emotions in a bad way. I fully understand emotions are a key part of marketing, but I want to utilise them in a good way. I want to understand who customers are and what their requirements are, so we can ensure the products and services available are delivered and presented in a way that truly benefits them.
And I strongly believe I'm not the only one who thinks this, which leads me on to thinking that the misconception around marketing no longer actually exists.
The misconception has gone
Our entire focus as consumers has shifted in recent years. For example, as so many have said before me, cold-calling doesn't work in its traditional sense. That 'hard sell' approach now feels too outdated to ever be effective again in the foreseeable future.
As consumers, we want to be educated, not sold to. We want to be spoken with, not spoken to. We want to be given all of the necessary information and resources to make a decision ourselves, not be shoehorned into a process that results in us receiving something we don't really want or need.
Traditionally, this was how marketing and sales worked. It was essentially about getting as many people to see, interact with and buy your products as possible. It greatly reduced the amount of free thought consumers needed, and instead made as many decisions for them as possible.
But this approach today would result in nothing but consumer backlash. As marketers, we now need to essentially be that communication channel between the company and the consumer, putting as much information as we possibly can into that channel, to the right audience, so they can make the most informed choices possible.
Whether it's general, audience-created reviews or heavily-segmented messaging customised for individuals, marketing today looks at what each and every customer actually wants, and delivers it in the way that's going to be most beneficial for them.
Or at least that's what it should be if you want to see the greatest return on your marketing investment possible.
Whilst there are no doubt some are still stuck in the outdated ways, trying to flog a dead horse, it's genuinely pleasing to see the majority seem to be taking on board the need to truly understand their audience.
Whether that's due to the marketing industry today being led by fresh thinking, or individuals entering in a non-traditional way - or both - I can't accurately say, but however it's come about, I feel confident that the discussed misconception around marketing is now outdated, and importantly, on its way out.