How to explain marketing to non-marketers

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Snapshot : It’s important that marketers can explain marketing clearly and simply to non-marketers, as often they need support from the rest of the business. In this article, we share some of the topics that work well to explain marketing, and some of those that marketers really should keep to themselves. 

So us marketers spend a lot of our time talking about consumers and how we communicate with them. Or more frequently communicate TO them.

Endless hours talking about the brand identity or the advertising idea. Whether this word or that word will ‘convey the brand essence’ or ‘articulate the reason to believe’ and so on.

Quite why we feel the need to use slightly archaic terms like ‘convey’ and ‘articulate’ we don’t know. We could actually just say ‘show the brand essence’ or ‘say the reason to believe’ which are much simpler, but those somehow don’t feel right.

How do you explain marketing to non-marketers?

However, it’s very rare that we ever spend any time, thinking about how best to go about marketing to non-marketers in our business.

How do you explain marketing to them?

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

The audience without whom, a marketer’s efforts are destined to be filed in a shared drive powerpoint folder gathering dust.

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

Brand awareness gains, emotional benefits, service propositions.

These may be the tools of the marketing trade. But, take a look around when marketers use these terms. Watch the audience and see that after about 5 minutes into the presentation, people who are bored, yawning and totally not engaged.

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 way that makes them take notice. Show them what’s in it for them. 

Most marketing is only interesting to other marketers

When marketers talk about marketing, they tend to do it in a way that is only interesting to other marketers, not ‘normal’ people (!).

Why aren’t we able to apply our core marketing skills to internal audiences? Why aren’t we better at marketing to non-marketers?

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

Have you ever asked them?

Storytelling on stage - woman presenting to audience

From our experience, what seems to work the best with trying to engage an audience of non-marketers are topics which the audience can relate to. The best way to explain marketing to non-marketers is to make it relevant to them. 

There are three main marketing topics which we repeatedly see be the most interesting for non-marketing audiences. 

Advertising campaigns

Show them your new advertising campaign. They are consumers too, and everyone likes being among the first to see a new ad.

It makes them feel like they are part of a special ‘inside’ club. And for the amount of time you’ve invested in making it, it can probably tell the story better than you can.

Show them the advert first, but then talk about the thinking that went into it. This is a great way to explain marketing and show that you’ve thought about the target audience and what they need. 

Talk about the advertising evaluation process and how you refined the idea, and what consumers think of the advert.  

Launching new products and services

If you have created new products through marketing innovation that looks different or fills a new gap in the market, that’s interesting for non-marketers.

Just don’t drone on too much about everything that needed to happen before the launch.

If you had other functions help you get it to launch, make sure to thank them publicly. And if it’s something practical people can see, touch, taste, listen to or experience, so much the better.

An insight or observation that speaks to a common experience 

If your insight or market research is something that talks about a behaviour that everyone can recognise, then 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 can then show how you take that insight and apply it to your marketing plan, that’s a great way to explain marketing and what it does to non-marketers. 

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 that has a drama, a funny incident, something memorable that happened, use that. Marketers should be good at storytelling

That’s the sort of thing that people remember. We are genetically programmed to remember and pass on stories.

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

Bored woman in front of laptop

Marketing conceptual frameworks 

Marketers all love a good 2 x 2 or 3 x 3 matrix, a good flow chart or process map. But they are absolutely 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 that 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. 

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 start talking about ‘brand awareness has gone up by 2 points‘ or ‘our intent score is showing good progress‘ or getting into the depths of imagery statements, you can guarantee your audiences minds are elsewhere and they are wanting you to end as soon as possible.

Marketing methodology

Market research agencies are particularly guilty of this. Using up the first 20% of your time talking about methodology is a guaranteed attention-killer.

Nobody cares that it was 1,000 people in the survey

Nobody cares what the recruitment selection criteria were and how the results were double-blind analysed.

They just want to hear what the outcome was.

We’re not saying these are not important topics. Just they are not ones worth discussing outside marketing.

Those finance, HR, supply chain etc teams have their own concerns, and this sort of stuff, they  really, 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 the job of presenting your plans at a Town Hall type meeting to the rest of the business?

Remind people of the brand goal

Your brand should have a clear goal so make sure you say how what you are doing delivers agains that goal. That goal could be  an increase in sales or fulfilment of the company’s mission.

When you explain marketing to non-marketers, make sure you talk about the brand activation that shows progress against the goal.

Keep it simple, short and honest

If you have someone from another function you know and trust well, try running your presentation past them first. Ask 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.

So you don’t want to be going much longer than that (why do think Ted talks are all 18 minutes long?)

What do you want non-marketers to do for you?

Most importantly, try to finish with what 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 in the launch period?

Should they go on social media and share?

It’s by no means a comprehensive list. You have to find what works to your particular style.

But we’ve generally found the above learnings helped clear a lot of internal barriers. And reduced the impression that the marketing team is full of self-absorbed bullshitters.

And that’s a good thing to aim for when marketing to non-marketers.

Read our guides to marketing, or contact us if you need help to explain marketing to others in your business. 

Photo credits

Bus stop : Photo by Jay Clark on Unsplash

Woman presenting on stage : Photo by Product School on Unsplash

Bored lady in front of computer : Photo by on Unsplash

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