Underpants and the Strategic Value of Marketing and Communications

People often ask me what I do. It’s a pretty standard getting to know someone question, but as an individual that has worked in numerous areas of marketing and communications, it is often difficult to explain.

The reason I was first interested in marketing is much easier to articulate. Essentially every single company in existence needs marketing in some way. I loved this diversity and the fact that a career in marketing could take me in countless different directions. After a few years working in the industry, I added a background in communications because marketing and communications are intrinsically linked. You can’t do one effectively without the other. Most companies refer to it collectively as MarComm, because, you know, everything has to be shortened. Businesses can’t be bogged down with extra syllables.

Professionals in marketing and communications shoulder broad responsibilities including content creation and collateral production, campaigning, lead generation, web development and maintenance, planning and executing events, and numerous other activities. In addition, they are responsible for creating strategy that drives clicks, interactions, views, likes, shares, etc. and ultimately sales and profits, but that doesn’t play well at a party or networking event.

Try telling someone that you spent a whole week writing a flyer, and see the look you get. They don’t realize all the research that went into developing that particular flyer, or that you had to rewrite the language to appease different reviewers, or the time you spent with your graphic designer to get the exact look and feel the piece deserved.

For a while when someone asked, I simply said “marketing”, like how you would respond “good” to the question “how are you?”. But marketing is also about story telling. I felt I was selling myself short with the vanilla answer, and wasn’t making a good impression on anyone whom I’d like to potentially do business with. I wanted to be remembered with my answer rather than glossed over.

For the last few years, when someone asked what I do, I tell them the story of the underpants gnomes. The underpants gnomes are a group of characters from the show South Park in an episode where the boys had to produce a report on business. These characters have a simple 3 phase plan for success.

If you are still reading this, you are probably thinking “what the heck is this guy talking about?” and that is exactly what I want you to think. As silly as it is, the idea of underpants makes you giggle, but also pay attention, and sparks curiosity as to where this is going.
I think this is a brilliant example because the three phases of the underpants gnomes can really be applied to any business. All businesses have an idea of what they want to do. It might be a product, or service, or an idea to improve upon something that already exists, but they all have that Phase 1 that defines their mission and reason for being. Also, all businesses want to make profits. Even “non-profits” need to make enough income through donors or grants to keep their organization going.

Where most companies fail is in how they move from mission to profitability. They get lost in phase 2 and that is where marketing and communications enters the discussion.

It is the job of MarComm professionals to take the question mark of phase 2 and turn it into an actionable plan. Now I agree that there are other departments at the table in most organizations, R&D, legal, compliance, finance, accounting, human resources, IT, etc. but they all needed to be guided by marketing and communications.

If a company does not have an effective plan to educate their target market about their offering, then they are going to fail, no matter how good their lawyers are.

Marketing touches all areas of a company. HR has to effectively market a position to get the best people. IT has to internally market new solutions to get executives to pay for them. I could go on, but I think you are starting to get the point.

It is inherently important for marketing to have a seat at the strategic table. I recently read a report by Propel Growth sponsored by Synthesis Technology where they interviewed 12 senior marketers from a range of investment management firms to discuss:

• Marketing and product strategy
• Sales and marketing alignment
• Producing and using sales collateral
• Supporting complex product lines and distribution channels
• Operating models for data management
• Production and distribution of marketing materials and
• Measuring effectiveness and ROI

One of the sentiments that were uttered consistently is that marketing needs more visibility and input into strategy.

Marketing and communications fundamentally guide sales, which are responsible for profits. In order for a company to ultimately get to the profit levels they desire, they need to value the information they get from these departments, and make sure that all areas of a company are supported and nurtured by marketing and that all aspects of a company are communicated in the most effective ways possible.
Phase 2 is strategy, and it needs to be highly influenced by marketing and communications.

If you are a professional working in one of these areas, make sure you have input and visibility into all facets of your company. Don’t just say you do marketing or communications and leave it at that. Show them the true value of your expertise. Tell people what you do in a way that is memorable and shows your value, and they will start inviting you to the discussions you need to be a part of. And, if you are having trouble coming up with your own story, just start talking about underpants.

People always pay attention to underpants.