Mark Ritson: 7 essential lessons all new marketers need to know

Mark Ritson (2015 award) article image

Eventually I saw the light and found myself in a room filled with bright, smiling junior marketers. I had an hour to instil in them the kind of fear and loathing that had taken me a lifetime to achieve. I picked on topics that I wish someone old and fat had told me when I was young and keen. Here they are.

First, never ever talk about a logo. Ever. Most bosses believe marketing is pointless superficial piss, so the minute you turn up talking about a “consistent look and feel” and presenting different font options, you are confirming their worst fears about you and the discipline you work in. Hire an agency to present all the superficial fluffy stuff and stay above the fray.

There is no standard terminology in marketing and that can cause young people to freak out and lose confidence. Take the concept of brand positioning. In a typical week, you can hear it called brand values, value proposition, brand attributes, brand image, corporate reputation, brand purpose. They all mean the same thing but you need to have the confidence to work out that when some bozo asks if you know about ‘brand philosophy’, you understand what he is on about. Confidence, decent marketing training and a good bullshit detector will get you a long way in the industry.

Speaking of training, you need some. The only people who tell you that you don’t need a formal qualification in marketing are those that believe marketing is ‘common sense’ and ‘creative’. It’s neither and you need proper training to know what it really is all about.

The most important concept in marketing is the one the majority of marketers have not heard of – market orientation. Market orientation has a long and complicated origin but in a nutshell it means that you always have to remember that you don’t actually see the world like the consumer – you’re getting paid to work for the brand for starters – so don’t start making assumptions about what they want or feel. If you are market oriented, you don’t just do research, you depend on it because you know NOTHING.

Use market orientation in meetings. Too many marketers go into a room full of executives from their company and warble on about the need to build brand awareness and brand equity. No-one gives a fuck, except you – and presumably you are already on board. Good marketers work out how to link what they do with what other stakeholders within the organisation want – employee retention, improved profits, clearer leadership. You get the idea. Always have a good think about what everyone wants around the corporate table before you open your gob.

You will always underprice everything. There is loads of supercool research (that I cannot find anymore) that shows that when managers get the price wrong, 90% of the time they go too low. Marketers have an inbuilt bias for volume over value. Remember that because if there is one sin you cannot afford in marketing, it is low prices. They undermine brand, reduce profits and turn off your target customers. Horrible stuff.

Next, don’t even think about tactics until you have a target segment, a position (or whatever your firm calls it) and a strategic objective or two. All shit marketers care about is executional stuff – let them flounder down in the lower depths of our discipline. The social/digital revolution has changed the tactical options but the strategic game remains the same. Never move into execution until you know your target, position and objective.

Finally, the thing that will totally mess things up is time. It takes time to work out what is going on. Time to come up with a strategy. Time to develop the tactics. Time for the tactics to work. Time for the money to come. Unless you find a way to give yourself time your impact will be tiny – even if you made all the right strategic choices.

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