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Why I Like Working With Marketers

By - March 31, 2010

Cross posted from the FM Blog:

…For today’s Signal topic, I’d like to talk about marketing as a portal to understanding your business.

Now, before you roll your eyes and click away, stick with me for a minute. If you’re reading this post, chances are you are in business. And chances are also pretty good that business is media or marketing, because that’s the focus of Signal, after all.

So, what business are you in? Or, more to the point I’d like to make: What is your business?

You’d might be surprised at the number of folks I’ve met with in the past year who pause when I ask that question. Because, in the main, that number is exceedingly low.

Allow me to explain. While it might seem, from a cursory review of my career, that I’m fascinated by media and marketing, what really gets me up in the morning (or more accurately, wakes me up in the middle of the night) is business. I love the puzzle that is connecting a great idea with a great market (that’s the entrepreneur in me), and I love learning how Really Big Companies work. In fact, over the past decade or so, I’ve gone pretty deep in both: Starting several small businesses based on Big Ideas, and spending a ton of time with very engaged folks deep in brands like HP, American Express, Walmart, P&G, Intel, McDonald’s, and countless others.

And without an exception, I’ve found that asking interesting questions of senior folks responsible for marketing at large companies has led to exceedingly smart insights on how those businesses work. It’s sort of like Clift Notes for Big Biz – if you want to understand the company behind major brands, start with the folks who run marketing.

An example. Earlier this week I sat down with an SVP responsible for marketing at a major retailer. Because I don’t have his (or her) permission, I’ll keep my source – and the company – anonymous. But know this – this company has a top 25 e-commerce site, a national brand, a major catalog business, and several different divisions, all of which are high-end and are sub-brands in and of themselves.

As we dug into our conversation, we quickly dropped any pretense of our dialog being about marketing, at least in any traditional sense, and quickly got to questions that had to do with the business – what products sold when, where, and why; what kinds of data were gathered to support business decisions; which customers were most profitable, most elusive, and most difficult to convert; what role the founder’s DNA played in what had become a major enterprise’s business decisions (and why it was crucial to respect that); how the competition was playing its cards and what response to take to those moves; what institutional blocks were impeding innovation in the business; and on, and on, and on.

I could spend hours and hours, and days and days, in conversations like this one. In fact, I’m honored to say that for the most part, doing just that is pretty much my job these days…..(more )

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