Many watchers of The Wire - an exploration of the drug trade, social issues, and institutional bureaucracy in Baltimore, and considered by many to be the best television show ever made - will recall the exploits of Detective McNulty and his team of fellow misfits and outcasts as they buck the system to push deeper - and go harder - than many of their institutionalized colleagues would have them go, in the name of being ’natural po-lice.’
In doing so, they constantly ruffle feathers, open themselves up to criticism, risk their careers and often set themselves up for extreme disappointment.
They expect no accolades or credit. They are less concerned with the optics and the politics of who did what, and entirely concerned with, and dedicated to, achieving the goal.
It strikes me that there is (or can be) a parallel here with B2B marketing.
The game is the game.
Of course, marketing is not as important as trying to take down a Stringer Bell or an Avon Barksdale. Chasing profit and growth is obviously not in the same conversation as tackling complex social issues (although let's face it, Stringer was all about growth strategy...).
But in the context of marketing, we can face similar 'institutional challenges' in getting the job done, and in asking ourselves what it means to do 'good work' vs. selling services or executing tactics.
Setting a lower bar makes for a smoother and (at least temporarily) safer ride. Its easier to claim ‘success’ when your goal is actually to satisfy an optics requirement. This goes for both client and agency side.
We’ve all dealt with challenges relating to internal politics, change, shifting sands. Perhaps you've asked for budget to fund an important tactic and received a 'less than favourable' response...
The jaded, institutionalized approach would be to claim that the machine is broken, sit back and say, “It’s not my problem, so I’ll hang my hat on X tactic, show that it was executed, and make sure everyone knows about it.”
Doing what's necessary.
The McNulty way - the way of the outcast - is to say:
“Why are we doing anything at all, if we are not doing everything we can to drive home a meaningful result.”
There are always going to be problems and complications, issues with buy-in and support.
So why not set a higher bar and do what will effectively matter to the bottom line (vs. something that will look good for the moment). Why not drive forward and try to do the 'right' thing, regardless of support or even recognition?
In marketing terms, this involves asking hard questions around what our metrics mean in the bigger picture. Are we able to draw a clear line from our marketing KPIs to wider business objectives?
Doing this means no smoke and mirrors. We can talk (as anyone can, and everyone does) about how our efforts are great for brand awareness and top of the funnel engagement, but that’s not where marketers should want to hang their hats.
We need to show how our efforts are leading to increased revenue.
We should rely on data to show how all our efforts across platforms tie together to drive conversion opportunities and improve the bottom line.
More importantly, we should focus on the entire process from top to bottom, and ask questions that often fall 'out of scope' - for instance, do we have a wider strategy around how we engage our audiences so that we are offering the right experience at the right time? (Think 'Buyer Journey'). Have we thought enough about who they are, and are we in tune with what will resonate with them? (Think 'Personas'). Are we regularly testing different approaches? What is the process for lead handling? How does the Sales team view marketing-generated leads? Are we working closely enough with Sales to benefit from their expertise and on-the-ground intel?
It behooves us all to think and act to a higher standard, regardless of whether a pathway has been officially cleared for us to do so. It's up to us to pave the way. We decide where we want to hang our hats.
In the short term, basic KPIs around disparate strategies may be passable.
But deep down, every agency or client-side marketer who has seen 'The Wire' knows: Omar's coming.
Up next: Read Amazing, wonderful, endless choice.