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How to explain marketing to non-marketers

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Why read this? : Marketers often need help from others to get things done. We share how to explain marketing in simple terms, so you get the support you need. Learn what’s most likely to interest non-marketers, and what to avoid at all costs. Read this for ideas on how to explain marketing to non-marketers. 

Marketers spend a lot of time talking about customers and how to communicate with them. 

Endless hours talking about segmentation research and brand positioning. Whether this word or that word will ‘convey the brand essence‘. Or ‘articulate the reason to believe’.

Seriously, who apart from marketers uses words like “convey” and “articulate” when they could just use “show” and “say”? No wonder, most non-marketers just ignore what marketing people say. Bunch of jargon-spouting blowhards, right?

How do you explain marketing to non-marketers?

Thankfully, not all marketers like that. Good marketers understand the value of being able to explain marketing to non-marketers.

The important internal audience of non-marketing people who are there to sell, manufacture, handle customer service, pay the bills and make sure we’re all safe and happy in our business lives.

Then there are the ones who have to approve our creative work before it goes out the door. If you can’t explain marketing to them, your efforts will never see the light of day. 

We’ve sat in so many cross-functional meetings and company town halls where marketers stand up and talk about ‘marketing’.

Brand awareness gains, emotional benefits, service propositions. You know the sort of thing, right?

Tools of the marketing trade. But to everyone else, boring and mostly meaningless marketing jargon.

Look around when marketers use these terms. Watch the audience. It usually takes about 5 minutes and the audience are bored, yawning and disengaged.

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

Like an artist talking about the brush or paint they use, or an architect about another architect who has influenced their design, nobody else cares. You need to explain marketing to non-marketers in a way that’s interesting to them. 

You do that by showing what’s in it for them. 

Most marketing is only interesting to other marketers

When marketers talk about marketing, they usually do it to make it interesting to other marketers, not ‘normal’ people (!).

Why can’t marketers apply their marketing skills to internal audiences? Why aren’t they better at marketing to non-marketers?

What is it someone from finance, supply chain, HR, IT or sales actually wants to hear from you as a marketer?

Well, have you ever asked them?

From our experience, what seems to work the best when trying to engage an audience of non-marketers are topics the audience can relate to.

The best way to explain marketing to non-marketers is to make it relevant to them. 

There are 3 marketing topics we regularly see create the most interest in non-marketing audiences. Those are advertising, innovation and insights

Woman standing on stage telling a story to a large seated audience

Advertising

Show them your new advertising campaign. They’re customers too. Everyone likes being among the first to see a new advert. It makes them feel like they’re part of a special ‘insiders’ club.

For the amount of time and money advertising costs, it’ll probably tell a better story than you can.

After you show the advert, share the thinking behind it. Show what you learned evaluating the creative idea. Talk about how you’re going to measure the advertising impact on sales and profits. These things will always interest non-marketers.   

Outdoor billboard with writing that says this will drive $1m in sales - probably

Innovation

Non-marketers will always be interested in new products and services created via marketing innovation. New stuff is interesting. 

Just don’t drone on too much about everything that needed to happen before the launch. Innovation sounds great, but people don’t want to hear the tough reality behind it

If other functions helped you launch it, make sure to thank them publicly. And if it’s something  people can see, touch, taste, listen to, or smell, let them experience that. Sensory experiences are interesting. 

Person holding light bulb with blurred out light effect in the background

Insights

If your market research or insight is something that talks about a behaviour everyone can recognise, then that’s interesting. It creates an instant connection with your audience.

Hey, you know how people can’t seem to walk down the street without being glued to their mobile phone …

or “Hey, have you noticed that all ‘healthy’ brands tend to come in green coloured packaging?” 

… is the sort of thing that even non-marketers can relate to. If you then show how you took that insight and used it in your marketing planning, that’s a great way to explain marketing to non-marketers.

(see also our article on how to find the opportunities in online behaviours like communications and social, for more examples of this).   

How to make it interesting - tell a story

And finally, it’s not just the topic you choose, but how you communicate it. 

If you can tell a good story with drama, a funny incident or something memorable that happened, use that. Marketers should be good at storytelling

Stories add a lot of value. They’re easy to understand, easy to remember and easy to talk about.

How to make it NOT interesting - 3 topics to avoid

So, if that’s what you should do to explain marketing, what sort of things should you avoid?

There’s a few things marketers love doing and talking about, but which are like kryptonite when it comes to marketing to non-marketers.

So, here’s our avoid-at-all-costs top 3 topics. 

Topics you should only talk about if your aim is to bore people to death. That’s usually not your aim. Leave that to finance 😉 

Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

Marketing conceptual frameworks 

Marketers all love a good matrix (like the Ansoff matrix for example), and showing flow charts and process maps. But they’re dull as dishwater for almost everyone else.

It’s like the mechanic showing you a a diagram of how your car engine works. You don’t really care. You just want to know it works. And it’ll do what it’s supposed to. Avoid conceptual frameworks when talking to non-marketers.

They want to see the outcomes, not the process. 

Marketing cartoon - presenting the marketing plan - man pointing to a screen and saying "But I have a 2 x 2 grid AND a pyramid!"

Brand equity measurement 

For most non-marketers, the brand is ‘doing well‘ or ‘not doing well‘ is about as much as they’ll care.

When you talk about ‘brand awareness has gone up by 2 points‘ or ‘our intent score is showing good progress‘, nobody really understand or cares. Avoid getting deep into brand equity or imagery statements. They’re only of interest to other marketers. 

Marketing methodology

Market research agencies are particularly guilty of this. Using the first 20% of a presentation to talk about methodology is a guaranteed to kill attention.

Nobody cares it was 1,000 people in the survey

Nobody cares what the recruitment selection criteria were and how the results were double-blind analysed. Confidence intervals? Boring!

This sort of behaviour from market researchers drives you crazy

Market research cartoon - Headline is market research purist and shows a man with his hands out to say stop and text - 98% confidence? Nope, we'll have to re-do it!

Nope, non-marketers only want to hear what the outcome was. And what you’re going to do with it. 

We’re not saying these aren’t important topics. Just they’re not worth discussing outside marketing. Those other teams have their own concerns. This sort of stuff, they really don’t care. 

So, you are asked to explain marketing at a meeting ...

So what would be our top 3 tips if you’ve got to explain something in marketing to the rest of the business?

Highlight the brand goal

Your brand should have a clear goal. Make sure you say how what you’re doing delivers against that goal. Show the brand activation delivers against the goal.

More sales? Deliver your brand purpose? Lots of happy customers? Whatever it is, remind people why the brand exists. Show them the progress you’re making together. 

Keep it simple, short and honest

If you’ve someone from another non-marketing function you trust to give you honest feedback, run your presentation past them first.

Make a point of asking for feedback. Ask what they remember from your practice run, and then focus on amplifying that.

And remember, most people have an attention span of about 20 minutes.You don’t want to be going much longer than that (why do think Ted talks are all 18 minutes long?) The more concise you are, the more your audience will love what you have to say. 

White round badge with a read heart symbol against a dark grey background

Conclusion - Be clear what you want from non-marketers

Most importantly, always finish with a call to action. What do you want people to do with the information you’ve shared?

Do you want them to tell others about it? Do you want them to do something specific? Should they go on social media and share, for example?

If there’s no action, there’s no real point. 

So use these lessons to help you overcome barriers to marketing. (they also work with e-Commerce barriers too).

Close up of a hand with thumb up

Doing these things reduces the impression the marketing team is full of self-absorbed, jargon-babbling idiots. And that’s a good thing to aim for when marketing to non-marketers.

Read our how to be a better marketer article for more on this topic. Or contact us if you need help to explain marketing to non-marketers.

Photo credits

Bus stop : Photo by Jay Clark on Unsplash

Business meeting : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Woman presenting on stage : Photo by Product School on Unsplash

Billboard (adapted) : Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash

Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Bored lady in front of computer : Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Heart pin button : Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Thumb up (edited) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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