The success of a business is ultimately predicated by the attitude of the organisation’s leader. 

No matter how talented a team of creatives, salespeople, digital strategists, product developers, scientists or researchers – the ‘decision maker’ is the one who supports growth and innovation, or hinders a brand.

I’m reflecting on this subject as I was recently engaged to undertake a strategy audit with a marketing team from a staple Australian brand. I was immediately impressed by the team’s individual CVs as marketers, and by their fingertip grasp of statistics surrounding their business. All of these marketers were excellent, talented and full of great ideas.

The only thing stopping them taking the business to the next level? Their employer’s rusted-on ideas about how their business should work, what they thought their audience valued, and an unreasonable obsession with ROI on marketing. Please note – this isn’t a blog whose purpose is to bitch about a particular business leader – rather, I thought it would be useful for marketers (especially those at risk of being silo-ed within small-medium organisations who regularly work alone) to have a ‘red flag’ guide that identifies business owners who cannot be helped because of their immoveable ideas. Let us begin:

  • They are obsessed with ROI

Just because we can measure something, doesn’t mean we can infer a sales result from activity. A big red flag for me is an organisation who believe that ROI can (and should!) be obtained on every marketing activity. Whilst CPC can be reported on Google Advertising, for example, the same expectation cannot be foisted on long-term sentiment based marketing (such as social media, which is effectively long-form hypnotism and value reiteration). It is wrong to think that just because something can’t be valued to the dollar, that it is without value. That way lies a sad world of philistines who see no value in art, music, gardens, children or sunshine.

  • They are unable to take your expert opinion into consideration

It’s OK for an employer’s ideas to be different to yours; but if they are immoveable and unable to pivot position or take on new industry knowledge from you (the expert they recruited!) you’re in serious red flag territory. Robust conversation that leads to compromises on both sides is fine. But explaining and proving your strategy month after month after month without being believed is bad for your mental health and self confidence. It also does nothing for your employer’s business.

  • They change their marketing goals as often as their undies

Does your employer have a serious case of FOMO? Do they hawkishly watch their competitors and look to copy their strategy and style? Worst of all … do they foist these madcap ideas onto you to execute at a moment’s notice? This won’t do. It’s bad strategy (it’s not strategy, it’s totally reactive), it won’t help them achieve better outcomes, and it doesn’t pay respect to agreed-upon quarterly marketing goals.

  • They suggest that you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you are incompetent because you cannot hit their arbitrary KPIs

I say to them on your behalf, “Go gaslight someone else, you nincompoop!” Most of the marketers who tell me their employers question their skillset are more than competent. This is a form of bullying which can ultimately wear you down, and it’s unacceptable.

  • They are unreasonably obsessed with ‘vanity number’ followership on social media

In every meeting they raise your competitor’s extraordinary follower count and ask why their own business has less than a quarter that number. Forget the fact that your audience is actual customers with a great engagement rate. They’ll also often ignore wisdom on how many brands with extraordinary follower counts have purchased their audiences, which is both risky and a waste of a marketer’s efforts. Having to occasionally explain why vanity numbers are without huge value is OK – but if it is the only metric they will approve of you on, it is wilful ignorance.

  • They refuse to spend on any marketing that is not ‘organic’

Some employers will spend money on content development, but refuse to pay to ‘boost’ content on Facebook, Instagram of LinkedIn. They will stubbornly pretend that these platforms still offer organic reach (hah!), and suggest that if only your content were good enough, were viral enough, they would be able to win the social media game. No matter how much you educate them, if they will not engage in showing the branding material you develop to the right audiences, they will never be happy and they will not grow.

  • They are uninterested in market research

Knowing what your customers actually care about it valuable. Understanding their tolerance for cost and risk is also important. If an employer insists on forcing their own assumptions and agenda onto an audience without interrogation, it’s not a great sign.

If your employer is displaying several – or all – of these characteristics, I would suggest they are beyond help. No-one will make them happy, and no-one will be able to grow their business because they are unable to learn and grow. If you are in a financial position to do so, you should escape from their clutches. Many senior in-house marketers have their mojo seriously curtailed by business owners who are unable to take on new ideas, to trust expert staff opinion, or to at least consider their position might need adjustment.

So before you begin second-guessing your skills as a marketer, consider that your employer may be working against their own best interests.

If you are an in-house marketer that requires a strategy audit, or could do with an expert opinion on your processes on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis – email to enquire about our consulting services.