What Do Marketing Departments Do?

by Brie Stiens | August 25, 2020

The Eccentric Ones. The Ad Men. The Mad Men! The Big Spenders… People have lots of ideas about the marketing department, many of them old stereotypes we can talk about over a three-martini lunch.

Today’s modern marketing department is much different than 20 or even 10 years ago, with marketing technology evolving just as quickly as technology in general. Think about how the smart phone entered your life a mere 13 years ago, and now you’re almost surgically attached to it. So, to answer the “what do marketing departments do?” question, it’s important to frame the discussion in terms of what a modern marketing department does. Because the marketing mandate sure has changed.

Let’s take a look at team members and their roles in today’s modern marketing department:

They are a diverse mix of personalities, abilities and expertise

As technology and the internet have evolved, so, too, have the responsibilities of a marketing department. No longer are teams just creating print, tv and radio ads. Now we have the option to promote a brand on social media (organically and paid) or by using podcasts, webinars, blogs, emails, search and other digital means. And don’t forget the celebrity brand ambassador! Although a brand may not utilize every available channel, you can see that there are a lot more areas of expertise needed to run an effective marketing department than ever before.

Often marketing teams will have a lot of creatives – designing, writing and directing the creative process. With the success of content marketing in acquiring leads, writers sometimes make up 30% of a marketing department. Strategy leaders will also be on the team, usually segmented by product line. They’ll focus their strategic chops on orchestrating every aspect of the marketing mix, working with experts in each channel.

Then you have the technology wizards who are responsible for automation, apps and websites that brands need to create unique customer experiences. Add in the social butterflies who do publicity and events. And last, but certainly not least, are the data scientists and math wizzes who will get their own section next. If I’ve missed anyone, I do apologize!

The point is that marketing is no longer a discipline in and of itself. It has become a diverse ecosystem of talented and specialized people doing their parts to create a holistic customer journey that surprises, delights and ultimately results in sales.

They do some serious number-crunching

With technology comes data, a lot of it. Data points are available across marketing channels, allowing marketers to see what’s working, what’s not and where there is room for improvement.

As the famous saying most often attributed to Wanamaker goes, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.” For that reason (and a few others), marketing departments have often been seen as cost centers. Colleagues from other departments may even ask, “What the heck are they doing over there?”

That paradigm is definitely changing. With today’s ability to see data at nearly every point in the customer journey, Wanamaker’s saying can pretty much be tossed out the window.

Marketing departments are now shifting to a profit center approach, using data that verifiably attributes sales to marketing and shows a clear ROI.

They are customer advocates

Modern marketers know that they need to create value for the customer. For example, customers don’t buy a car to have a hunk of metal in their driveway. They buy a car to get to the places they want to go, to keep their families safe and for individual reasons that each brand represents. Want to tow a boat? Well then, you need a Chevy. Want something you can strap your kayaks to for a week outdoors? A Subaru. Want the status of the ultimate driving machine? A BMW.

Modern marketing departments are putting customers first, taking time to understand them and build experiences for them. They know if they don’t, then customers will find a different product or service that puts their needs first. Focus groups and customer feedback can help with this, and the digital age lets us A/B test to see which emails, ads, webpages and so on strike the right chord.

They are the sales team’s best friend (or at least they should be)

Marketing and Sales don’t always get along, but when they do, great things happen. Especially for B2B companies, these two teams need to work together. Marketing’s goal is to secure sales qualified leads (SQLs) and hand them off to Sales. This inbound approach means that prospects who are interested in your company’s value proposition want to learn more. It’s an awful lot easier for a sales rep to close with prospects like these than through time-consuming cold calls that lead nowhere.

In addition to handing off warm leads on a silver platter, marketing also supports the sales process. The marketing department can provide collateral such as presentations, explainer videos, drip email campaigns and case studies so that Sales is armed with the best tools for the job. Remember Marketing knows the customer well – what messages work, which values resonate and possibly even what content each prospect has seen. This knowledge will help the sales team highlight product or service value in ways that speak effectively to a prospect’s needs and preferences.

They create, collaborate and make it happen

When I think of what a marketing department does at a very basic level, it’s to create and collaborate. Team members conceptualize, design, write and edit constantly. Given the many media channels and content formats that exist today, the need to create is always there.

This creation often calls for collaboration. Marketers are usually not subject matter experts (at least not until we dig in and learn!), so they need to collaborate with product, sales and other teams to gather and prioritize information. Because it’s typically not cost effective to have all of marketing’s many disciplines on an in-house team, modern marketers may also frequently collaborate with and outsource to agencies – media, creative, advertising, social, SEO and the like – to fill in team gaps.

Lastly, a well-structured and staffed modern marketing department gets things done. It’s all in a day’s work for talented marketers to figure things out, connect the dots, pull from strengths across the company and use marketing technology in novel ways that let a company test and take full advantage of new ideas.

While marketing is indeed changing constantly, the field is grounded in a few basic principles that can be applied to any channel and any medium. Once they are well-versed in those principles, modern marketers can flex their skills to make almost anything happen.

For more on marketing departments

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