We are in the midst of a technological revolution. Inherent in this revolution are many existential questions, such as how do humans and technology co-exist? A power struggle has emerged and modern marketers are on the front lines, sitting at the cross-section of diverse business disciplines, technologies and agency relationships, navigating unprecedented change together. More than ever, succeeding in such a volatile environment requires building trust with people.
Building trust is hard and human work. It requires consistency, competency, authenticity, honesty and clear communication, and it plays the most critical role for marketing in the context of a business. A successful marketer must be able to activate broad groups of disparate disciplines to connect with diverse communities and ultimately drive business growth, which means that trust and teamwork go hand in hand to achieve great things. Below are examples of three important groups with whom marketers need to build trust in today’s business environment:
Customers and Consumers: Without these people, there is not a business. Underestimate the savviness of them at your own risk. They are expert consumers and have access to broad networks of peers, family and polished opinions literally at their fingertips. Additionally, they are more empowered than ever to voice their own opinions and have the means to do so at scale.
Agencies and External Specialists: There may be several agencies, perhaps even a blend of internal and external, and often they are specialized and therefore possess an expertise that exceeds that of the marketer. For this reason, a marketer must trust them as partners, but this relationship is most effective if trust goes both ways. For example, if a marketer has an agency’s trust, that agency will often overinvest, feel more comfortable using candor, and feel more empowered to push the boundaries.
Internal Business Units: This may include the marketer’s own team, Sales, Analytics, Consumer Insights, IT, Strategy, Board, Executive Teams and more. Incorporating inputs from these groups can strengthen strategy, company culture and identity, and the coherence of a communications approach (internal and external). If not managed well it can lead to gossip, political challenges, power struggles or worse. Open communication and feedback between groups is essential for broader team alignment.
Of course, trust in all of these areas is earned. Building functioning relationships across these groups is a tremendous responsibility and critical to a marketer’s success. However, this is just one aspect of the job. Marketers in many cases also deal with more technology and data than any other group in an organization.
Exponential technology has led to a fundamental shift in control between brands and the people that buy their products or services. The control has shifted from brands to the people with whom they want to connect. People are increasingly empowered to choose what they bring into their lives and what they do not. For marketers, this is an opportunity to better understand audiences because all of this technology comes with rich first, second, and third-party data sets. The promise being more clarity, increased performance and formulas for success. Answers!
With all of this technology, however, are we as marketers any more clear or confident than we used to be? In some ways, perhaps, but I would argue that there is just as much anxiety and distrust as there has ever been. More, in fact. This implies that for all the technology and data we have at our disposal, and the speed with which it comes to us, there is still significant doubt that what we’re doing will work.
Every group that marketers engage with, be it internal business units or external partners, have compelling data stories intended to help them make decisions. So how do marketers make sense of this? How do they know what to trust? In most cases, the data is not wrong or doctored. After all, data is objective. It’s the humans that bias the data based on the story that they are trying to tell on behalf of their interests. For example, maybe the marketing team needs to believe something in particular so that budgets can be allocated to further their cause. This is not nefarious in most cases. In fact, it’s the opposite. Each function believes very much that what they offer the business is of the utmost value, and that includes the marketing team.
What is fascinating about the concept of building trust in a tech revolution, is that one of the surest ways to build trust with others is to be fallible, vulnerable. These are things that make us human and, in many ways, are counter to the promises that technologies purportedly bring to us.
But no matter how much technology we have or how automated the work becomes, things will inevitably go wrong, be disrupted, evolve; and at least for now, we need to believe in the people that are working alongside of us to solve those challenges as they arise. People that will tell us the truth, support us, help us make a decision in service of the project over their own individual interests. Partners.
This exists and will continue, but requires the hard and human work of building trust and relationships. With these teams of people in the fold, longer-term thinking can take root. The importance of this cannot be overstated in our culture of instant gratification. As brands continue to take a stance on the broader challenges that face the communities that purchase their products or services, the value of stable and consistent leadership and communication will only increase.
In marketing-related fields, even with the flood of technology and information, human qualities still matter and are more important than ever. With that context, below are some essential trust building actions:
1) Be present with the people with whom you are in a relationship (which means not checking your technology while speaking or meeting with them).
2) Have honest conversations, even when they’re difficult.
3) Take in feedback even if you don’t agree with it.
4) Respect another’s differences and seek common ground.
5) Take the time to use storytelling for explaining and contextualizing complex business data, challenges and opportunities.
6) Treat people on a team (extended teams included) as individuals, and care enough to put them in positions that maximize their natural strengths.
7) Prioritize kindness over being nice.
This is marketing. At its best it’s emotional, nuanced, inspiring, messy, brave work. It builds culture inside and outside of organizations. It is always-on, not based solely on a campaign. As the power of data in marketing increases, so too will the ability to cut quickly to and communicate what matters in clear and compelling ways. Modern marketers are bridges between a broad array of disparate disciplines, and our success depends on the strength of our relationships. Some would call these human qualities soft skills, I’d call them mandatories. Either way, do not underestimate the sophistication of this line of work and the talent and courage of the humans that call it their trade.
Davis Jones is the Managing Director of Media Services at The Many.