Marketing is changing, but won’t be unrecognisable

Tom Welsh
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SIMON Middleton, in his book What You Need to Know About Marketing, describes the profession as “one of the earliest activities ever undertaken by mankind.” Like another early profession, it is often perceived as “of dubious morality.”

Middleton explains that the impulse to market is misunderstood. Marketing is simply about building relationships between businesses and customers, not about spin or selling the unwanted.

But marketing today, especially in financial services, seems far from simple. Not only do marketeers have an array of diverse career paths to choose from, but the internet is changing the profession. All this is happening against sustained bad press against banks and financial services.

How should a prospective marketeer market themselves?

Tim Gilbert, director of marketing recruitment at Robert Walters, emphasises that marketing is “a very broad sector.” Roles range from “communications professionals to product and proposition people.” There is no marketing type, but a “range of people who are called marketeers who do very different jobs.”
Not only is financial services itself diverse, but within certain sectors (for example, retail banking), marketeers help sell particular products, reassure investors, communicate messages internally, and build a brand within a highly commoditised market.
As such, recruiters don’t look for a marketing person, but a set of skills, and one of the most important is financial acumen. Simon Basset, managing director of the specialist marketing recruiters EMR, highlights the need to show that “you can work within your marketing budget” and that you are “commercially aligned to the sales strategy of the organisation.”

Marketing departments in banks have been the focus of significant consolidation in recent years. Marketeers have to “justify their expense” and, when looking for new roles, must show that they can be creative communicators, despite more limited financial means.

One area where marketing spend has not declined is in on the digital side, and the increasing use of digital communication strategies by financial institutions means that marketeers must increasingly demonstrate digital savvy. Gilbert says this is more than just knowing about the internet, websites or Twitter. It’s about being analytical. “Digital marketing is much more measurable in its impact than direct marketing”, he says, as it “requires the ability to look at data, numbers, and extrapolate trends from that.” Trend analysis is not enough on its own, but “a marketeer who is creative and numerate and can follow a commercial process will always do extremely well.”

But how should marketeers demonstrate this savvy? Basset thinks a personal “online brand profile” is essential. A CV can often be too one-dimensional, a simple list of standard achievements. By using online tools like LinkedIn, a marketeer can show off their “three-dimensional network, their personal testimonials” and can communicate a much more creative personal message. It is possible to overkill on online persona, but as long as the candidate does not “blur the line between professional and the personal,” effective and clever use of LinkedIn and other social media networks can distinguish.

Marketeers, however, shouldn’t get too wrapped up in the allure of technology. Paul Sykes, managing director of Michael Page Marketing, thinks “we won’t suddenly see the digital marketing side become hugely dominant.” Although spending will increase, “there will always be roles which don’t require people to have digital expertise.”

Nor should marketeers worry too much about the impact of banker-bashing on their careers, or the perception that marketing professionals in financial services are suddenly having to defend the indefensible. As Gilbert says, “banks have always been tough places to work, and marketing people are fairly hardened to public attitudes.”

What marketeers should really be concerned about is their own career development within the industry. Given its diversity, the key problem is being pigeon-holed, and it’s important to gain generalist experience before plunging into the latest exciting marketing venture. Alongside the shock of the new, marketing is still about building relationships.