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Hot Topics in Marketing: What I Heard From 20 Marketing SVPs and VPs Last Week

Ken Gaebler

Marketing Executive Challenges, Frustrations and Pain Points
Learn what marketing executives say are their top challenges, frustrations and pain points.

Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to numerous Marketing SVPs, VPs and CMOs at Content Marketing World, an industry conference that focuses on content marketing trends, technologies and best practices.

If you know our firm well, you know that a huge part of our culture at Walker Sands is that we are all Constant Learners. Towards that end, this show was a great opportunity for me and one of my Walker Sands colleagues, Tim Morral, to learn from some of the best content marketing experts in the country.

But what I valued most from this event was the opportunity to talk directly to the many attendees who were not consultants like me but who are actually working in the trenches within marketing departments.

I talk to folks like that all the time, but this was a rare opportunity to find so many of them at a single event and all in a mood to discuss their top marketing challenges.

At the show, there were marketing executives and marketing managers from SAP, Intel, Cisco, Avaya, Emerson, IBM, National Instruments, Tellabs, Motorola and myriad other big and small firms.

By my count, I talked to over 20 marketing leaders and practitioners.

All of my conversations made me feel good about the approach that Walker Sands has taken, in which we have invested in in-house expertise across a wide range of marketing services (strategy, PR, social, SEO, website design, etc.), so we can tailor our approach based on our clients' unique needs and challenges, solve real-world problems, and be a trusted and valued partner to the organizations we serve.

Here are five consistent themes that I heard from the marketing executives I spoke with.

#1 PR Agency Frustration

Many marketers don't like that their PR agencies are still exclusively focused on traditional media relations and have not evolved to competently provide support in other important areas, such as inbound marketing, influencer outreach, content marketing strategy, broad-based content creation, content curation, social visibility and promotion, digital lead generation and the like.

Other marketers complained that their PR agencies were offering those services but were employing a "fake it until you make it" approach -- learning the basics on the client's dime and not bringing true expertise to the table.

Lastly, I heard a consistent complaint that these additional services were usually only offered with an additional upcharge fee, rather than just being integrated into the basic service offering. One woman said: "I can't afford to have separate retainers for every little thing. I want a firm that does it all but does it as a single unified program at an affordable price."

#2 Agency Overload and Frustration With Silo Mentalities

With PR firms not providing the full range of services needed, many of the marketers I spoke to had to resort to using multiple agencies at the same time: a PR agency, a social agency, a content marketing agency, a PPC management firm, an SEO agency, etc.

On this topic, the big frustration that marketers articulated was the difficult in getting all the agencies, as well as internal marketing groups, to play nice together and work in harmony toward agreed upon goals and against a common strategy and workplan. A marketing VP from a tech company in San Jose said it best: "It's exhausting to herd all the cats. Everybody seems to have their own motivations and they are not necessarily in the best interests of the company."

#3 Questions About When to Hire Marketing Employees Versus When to Use a Marketing Agency

A big conversation topic among the marketers I spoke to was when to hire people as full-time employees and when to outsource the work to an agency or freelancer. How do you decide what to give to an agency versus what to handle internally?

Everybody seemed to have a slightly different opinion on this topic, with some running every single activity in-house and others using only outsiders to get the work done, with internal resources just coordinating external activities. The only consensus was on the value of a good marketing resource. According to the folks I talked to, when you find a great marketing resource, whether it's an employee, an agency or a freelancer, it's like discovering gold.

Many of these senior marketers said it was more important for them to be good at finding and using marketing talent than it was to actually be good at marketing.

#4 How to Allocate Scarce Marketing Resources + Strategic vs. Tactical Focus

Many marketers confessed that they were focused primarily on tactical execution and hadn't taken the time up front to define a strategy that would drive business results and inform the tactics used and their weighting.

I understand why this happens more than it should. Scarce resources and pressure from upper management has many marketing teams running like chickens with their heads cut off. Some of the people I spoke to were jumping at whatever the month's hot topic is (e.g. "We need to get more active marketing on Pinterest. Somebody needs to figure out how to do that.") They were rarely taking the time to ask "Why should we do this? Is it the best use of our scarce resources? Is this activity consistent with the plan that we've developed?"

Many of the marketers I spoke with were planning on reassessing their marketing strategies and their marketing priorities when they got back home after the conference. Resources are tight, and the conference reminded us all of the obvious: that we need to allocate marketing resources strategically and intelligently.

#5 Content Quantity Versus Content Quality

The final hot topic was around whether it was better to crank out marketing content in volume or whether it was smarter to create fewer pieces of marketing content that were higher-quality, more unique and more useful. For SEO and other purposes, there was a sense among many that you needed tons of content covering every key phrase, as well as every content permutation to support buyer personas, customer pain points and marketing funnel stages. But there was also a recognition that if your content was mediocre, nobody would care about it and it wouldn't differentiate you from the crowd or achieve your organization's most important content marketing objectives.

Every marketing leader I spoke to at the conference agreed that it was best to take a hybrid approach -- producing some content in an efficient high-volume manner but also taking the time to create some content gems that were truly special and unique. Another common refrain was that it depended on the competitive landscape -- volume content was a good strategy if competitors were not doing it, but if everybody was churning out content, you had to do that too but you also had to create some truly differentiating content pieces in order to stand out.

What Are Your Marketing Challenges?

As the world of marketing rapidly evolves, what's top of mind for you? I'd welcome your comments and thoughts below.

In addition, if you've got marketing challenges or frustrations that you need help with, we'd love to discuss them with you to see how we can help. Give a call at (312) 235-6171.