The ‘Sustainability’ of Giving Back: How Marketers Look After Their Own

Sustainability in business is often referred to as “the triple bottom line”—financial, environmental and social. This past week, I had the opportunity to see firsthand how we—as marketers—address social sustainability, specifically our fostering of human resources and marketing talent. It is a critical need

Sustainability in business is often referred to as “the triple bottom line”—financial, environmental and social.

This past week, I had the opportunity to see firsthand how we—as marketers—address social sustainability, specifically our fostering of human resources and marketing talent. It is a critical need.

First, we had the Marketing EDGE Annual Awards Dinner. Nearly 250 marketing leaders gathered to honor two recipients for Marketing EDGE’s two most prestigious education leadership awards: Michael Becker, co-founder and managing partner North America, mCordis, as the 2014 Edward N. Mayer, Jr. Education Leadership Award honoree; and Google as the 2014 Corporate Leadership Award designate.

Many of the emcees of the evening, uniquely, were alumni of Marketing EDGE programs (Marketing EDGE engages thousands of students and professors every year). Altogether, the evening generated not only hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship monies, but also mini-testimonials from students and young professionals including one individual who confessed he almost became a Eurobond trader until he was engaged in a Marketing EDGE program. He described himself as an “accidental marketer.”

Think about the term, “accidental marketer.” Today’s generation of students and “market-ready” career entrants are increasingly marketing educated, and even direct and interactive marketing educated, armed with internships and professional experiences the moment they reach the marketplace. Marketing EDGE programs alone touched more than 5,000 students last year—and 6,000 are anticipated for 2015. Many are marketing majors, while others are in STEM fields, creative and other disciplines, but with exposure to marketing curricula and some marketing experience.

Compare that to 20—even 10—years ago. This business was built largely by “accidental marketers” who found a home in measurable, accountable direct, interactive and data-driven marketing, and found entrepreneurial opportunities in our field. We did OK, even spectacularly, but our successes have only made the appetite for top talent grow more ravenous. Thus, the more we “give” to marketing education today—in donated time and money, in adjunct teaching, in internships, and in involvement with colleges, universities and “bridges” such as Marketing EDGE—the better chance we have to attract the best and brightest to our field, and to our companies. Giving back pays immediate dividends. (Don’t forget #GivingTuesday is December 2!)

During the Direct Marketing Association 2014 Strategic Summit, we heard from a panel on what it takes to bring along “The Next Generation of Marketing Talent.” Representatives from IBM, Javelin Marketing Group, Marketing EDGE and University of Georgia talked about the need for flexibility, mentoring, culture and social responsibility as motivators to today’s students and career entrants. Young professionals crave guidance, and likewise to understand their role in the big picture of community (in marketing, the business overall, the end-user, the industry, the world). One might say these attributes motivate everyone, but they are particularly important to digital natives and Millennials who want to start their careers as contributors and difference makers. How much better to have these new and young professionals matched with mentors, by default or design, to bring clarity to such contributions.

Which brings me to a third event, the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s 30th Annual Silver Apples Gala, honoring seven individuals (Brian Fetherstonhaugh, chairman & chief executive officer, OgilvyOne Worldwide; Timothy Kennon, president & owner, McVicker & Higginbotham, Inc.; Pamela Maphis Larrick, CEO, Omnicom’s Javelin Marketing Group; Thomas “Tim” Litle, founder & chairman, Litle & Co.; Lon Mandel, president, SMS Marketing Services; Debbie Roth, vice president of sales, Japs-Olson Company; and Dawn Zier, president & chief executive officer, Nutrisystem; and one corporate honoree (Fosina Marketing Group) who have contributed a quarter century (or more) to the direct marketing discipline, through demonstrable professional success, and a giving of time and effort to promote the goals of DMCNY which incorporates education and to foster growth of the field.

All during the evening, honorees recalled having mentors, being mentors to others, and having the clarity of marketing goals and measurement to achieve marketing success. They also spoke of community—where ideas are freely explored and exchanged, the good, the bad and the not-so-pretty (testing and lifelong learning)—as being part of the key to not only professional success, but also a deep sense of personal and professional fulfillment.

We are a community—and one I’m thankful for everyday in my own accidental career. It’s always time to give back and mentor.

Marketing as a Function of Your Entire Organization

In a world where earned content is increasingly influencing marketing programs, marketing as a function is changing. Marketing can no longer live solely in your marketing department. From customer service to product development to human resources, it must live everywhere in your organization. If marketing isn’t tied to your overall business strategy, it’s pretty much useless.

In a world where earned content is increasingly influencing marketing programs, marketing as a function is changing. Marketing can no longer live solely in your marketing department. From customer service to product development to human resources, it must live everywhere in your organization. If marketing isn’t tied to your overall business strategy, it’s pretty much useless.

The most telling example is the synergy between marketing and customer service. Do your customer-facing employees sit in the marketing department? No, they work on the front line, in the field, in your stores and service centers. Depending on how they interact with your customers, they foster either customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Your customer-facing employees thus wield incredible potential to influence your earned content.

Earned content is content that’s created by your customers on behalf of your brand. It could be a great review on Yelp, a gripe on Twitter, a user-generated YouTube video, a Facebook “Like” or a Google +1. Earned content has a powerful impact on your online marketing. It’s word-of-mouth marketing on search results pages and social networks. Your marketing department stays awake at night brainstorming ways to generate positive earned content and minimize negative earned content. But ironically, it’s your customer-facing employees — not your marketing department — that largely influence this content.

Consider this famous internet video: “A Comcast Technician Sleeping on My Couch.” This video is five years old and still ranks No. 15 in a search for “Comcast” on Google. It’s gotten 1.7 million views and 1,600 comments on YouTube. The video’s comments section is a gripe board for Comcast customers. The video is a thorn in the side of Comcast’s search marketing department, negatively affecting its reputation for years. Yet the video would never have existed if that one technician didn’t fall asleep on that customer’s couch. This example reinforces John Battelle’s point that the search engine index is the modern-day equivalent of carving our stories into stone.

Redefining performance marketing is about making the investment needed to bake marketing into every function of your organization. It’s about ensuring that all functions embrace your universal value proposition, central brand methodology and key benefit statements. This increases the likelihood that your customers actually get what your marketing department is promoting, including the right service, the right product, the promised benefit or the promised reward.

Baking marketing into every function is also about ensuring that each department knows that what it does influences marketing (sometimes in a huge way, as in the Comcast example or the recent Netflix price change which created an uproar in earned media). This not only includes how your customer service employees act, but how your product team develops products, what your executives say to the media, how your HR department screens job candidates and so on.

Making marketing an integrated function of your organization fuels the earned marketing engine. It sets the performance marketing spiral in motion as that earned content informs brand perception for the next person in market for your product or service.