Marketing, the ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ of Manufacturing


You may not know Jacob Rodney Cohen, but you probably do know his stage name, Rodney Dangerfield.  There are some days I feel his pain when it comes to manufacturing and marketing.  The lament of Marketing in a manufacturing company is the same as Rodney’s lament, “I don’t get no respect!”  Chances are, if you are a manufacturing marketer, you feel the same way.

Granted, this is probably not true in every manufacturing organization.  B2C manufacturing is likely to respect their marketing team a bit more.  Based on anecdotal experience and evidence, I feel confident in saying that the vast majority of B2B manufacturing companies do not respect their marketing team or marketing as a discipline. All you need to do is look at the marketing activities and advertisements put out by manufacturing companies.  They are usually terrible and you can’t blame the marketers.  The marketers want to be better and want to do better, but the ‘powers’ within the manufacturing organization (sales, product or executive) don’t support marketing with resources and, even worse, force just shitty ideas on the marketing professionals.  Advertisements appear to be either done in-house by someone who has no idea about design or layout fundamentals or they are done by an advertising agency.  Marketing is getting no respect in either case.

Let’s explore the reason why marketing is the Rodney Dangerfield of the manufacturing organization.  When manufacturing was in its glory days during the post World War II boom, there was really no need for marketing.  The product was king and all they had to do was invent or produce a product and people would buy it if they had the money.  If a product person or a sales manager decided they wanted to run an ad, it was usually a seat of the pants decision and the nearest secretary was tasked to ‘put together an ad’ based on a sketch on the back of a napkin.  There was no strategy or coherent plan in place beyond the sales team, an occasional advertisement and the regular trade show.  Surely, how smart do you have to be to put together a trade show was the thinking in the male dominated industry.   So it was a task someone’s assistant took on.  Note how the manufacturing culture is beginning to define the role of marketing during this time.  Marketing was being defined as a service to the sales or product team and it was just not important enough to support with any type of resources.

Cultures don’t change easily.  Even today, in our so called modern era of digital marketing, the culture in most manufacturing companies is dominated by either the sales organization or the product/R&D organization.  Marketing is seen as an admin function, subservient to all other functions.  Marketing is under funded, under appreciated and under utilized.  Marketers in a manufacturing organization “don’t get no respect”.

At this point in my little rant, I think it’s important to delve into the definition of “marketing”.  I see marketing as being divided into 2 areas; strategy and tactics.  Strategic marketing is usually formulated (and I use this term loosely) by the big boys and girls at the leadership table.  Typically, the ‘Marketing’ leader does not belong to this self-proclaimed ‘elite’ group.  So we have a group of executives who know nothing about practical marketing strategy or marketing tactics making decisions which are usually based on the latest sales persons shallow insight or the latest product under development.  They will try to bring their own personal experiences of being ‘marketed to’ into the discussion.  This leadership team will likely include the CEO, CFO, HR, and business segment leaders.  None of whom will have had any practical marketing experience.  (check out my past post, “Help, My CEO knows nothing about marketing”) Strategic marketing will usually be reduced to a few catch phrases like, “we have to be more customer focused” or “we have to use more digital marketing”.  It is from these types of meetings where strategic decisions about social media are born.  It sounds something like this from the CEO, “Hey, my daughter spends all of her time on Facebook.  Did you know there are more than a billion users of Facebook?”  Then the head of HR pipes up and says, “yeah, my son is on Twitter and he loves it.  He’s majoring in marketing at State U this year.  He says social media really boosts a company’s SEO too.”  The CFO says, “What’s SEO?”  They all have a good laugh, assign someone to tell Rita the marketing manager to get the company up on Facebook and Twitter as they move on the the quarterly income statement. Sadly, but alas, typically, that type of conversation serves as the marketing strategy discussion with the leadership team.

In the meantime, the servant class of marketer takes care of the tactical marketing which includes the daily things called marketing such as trade shows, advertisements, email blasts, etc.  Typically these disrespected marketing team members react to the sales team or the product guy.   In many cases, Product Marketing leads the marketing team.  Even worse, in many manufacturing companies, the engineering team leads marketing.  Ask any manufacturing marketer about what engineers think of marketing and you’ll see the marketer’s eyes roll around and their head shake back and forth.

True story, I was working with a large manufacturing company last Fall where the Vice President of Engineering was given the joint title and role as Vice President of Marketing.  In one meeting, he revealed his idea about what was needed from Marketing.  He wanted to see “pizzazz” and “flamboyance” from the marketing team.  He was completely clueless about marketing strategy, tactics or what a marketing team should be doing for a manufacturing organization.  Clearly, there is no respect for Marketing at that firm.

Marketing can and should be a powerful, revenue generating force within all manufacturing companies.  In this day and age, Marketing should be leading the entire revenue team, including sales, marketing, inside sales and product.  A modern, smart, adept marketing leader and organization has much to offer.  Why is it that there is little mention of marketing in most manufacturing professional organizations?  There is plenty of discussion around “lean manufacturing”,  “supply chain”, “Six Sigma”, etc., but very little mention of marketing.  Oh, but there is one place when marketing is talked about and brought into the conversation.  When budget cuts need to be made, invariably someone on the leadership team will say, “We can always cut our marketing spend”.

The upside is that there is a HUGE opportunity for the manufacturing business and its executives who are willing to change this culture of ‘no respect’ for marketing as a discipline and the professional marketers behind the discipline.  Marketing leaders and professionals are ready, willing and able to step up to the demand for growth.  Professional marketers know how to drive engagement, fill the top of the funnel, create TOMA (top of mind awareness) and, most importantly, deliver business.  Most manufacturing leaders embrace innovation and creativity as a cornerstone of their business.   Well it’s time to put up or shut up when it comes to innovation and marketing.  There is no more innovative and creative group of people than the modern marketer.  There is not a more exciting opportunity to innovate than embracing, respecting and creating a revenue driving marketing team.  Yes, I am a professional marketer and I’m proud of my profession.  As marketers, we have the technology, tools and the knowledge to contribute at the leadership table.  We, the professional marketers, are ready to earn the respect of the manufacturing organization.


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