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  • Sam Decker

5 Factors of a Marketing Culture the CEO Can Count On

Only 18% CEOs are satisfied with their marketing. Sounds right. However, I wonder how CEOs are involved in their marketing organization?

In my experience, the biggest impact a CEO can have on its marketing department is driving an effective culture. Marketing fits within and interacts with the entire organization. However, in some companies, marketing may have its own culture. When this happens, it is disconnected from the larger organization. And even then, the culture may not foster financial progress.

I believe there are four foundational pillars of an effective marketing culture. These are elements that don’t answer where to focus marketing, but rather ensure that the organization is being run in a way that the right decision is almost unavoidable.

And since a good marketing culture is one that is symbiotic with the organization’s culture, these are characteristics worth driving throughout the organization.


One of my favorite hiring stories is when I hired a Web Producer who had NEVER bought anything online. She didn’t even have a computer at home. However, she was highly recommended and I could see she was competent, ambitious and ‘middle-brained’. Fortunately at Dell we have an overwhelming culture of measurability, especially online. Her lack of experience was compensated with measurability. She could easily make decisions, measure, and correct, she was able to measure her way to success.
A CEO should breed and hire leaders who love to analyze results. They, in turn, will hire the same. Prioritize building a foundation where financial, online, campaign, research, and customer metrics are readily accessible. Always ask questions regarding results…presentations should include data. Pilot before you launch. Tie and extrapolate marketing results to the P&L. Use multiple sources of data to make decisions – financial and customer input.


If you go too far breeding left-brain analytics, you may stifle creative thinking or alienate the right-brained creative people. Worse, you can become inwardly-focused, which is the poison pill for effective marketing (see Customer Centricity). Creativity (that serves a purpose) is key to stand out in an over communicated world. As Roy H. Williams suggest, good advertising “surprises broca”, which simply means good advertising stimulates the part of the brain that is responsible for identifying things that are worth paying attention to. This requires creativite, outside of the box thinking (see “Making a Marketing Discovery“). The CEO can support this by hiring marketing executives who are ‘multi-lingual’ or ‘middle-brained’, hiring quality agencies, and appreciate left brained analysis with right brained creativity.


Accountability is key to any organization, but especially marketing. In previous companies and vendors I’ve worked with, I’ve seen marketing get away with a lot under the shroud of creativity and unmeasurability. A CEOs ‘involvement’ in marketing may simply be approving new creative concepts. They turn to sales or finance for P&L accountability. Yet in some organizations, marketing can drive 80% of the revenue, can affect margins, and they cost a lot of money. If any group should be accountable, it should be marketing.
Second, the marketing leader should drive ownership and accountability within the organization. There should be accountability to drive key elements of marketing results. In my marketing organization, I try to make sure everyone knows where they make an impact to the P&L and customer, and I ask what their key metrics are for them to know their impact each week. For some, every week they progress against forecasts and are ask to drive results results across multiple functions.


So much is written about customer-centricity, customer focus. Probably because companies have realized taking them for granted turns profits into losses.
At its core, customer-centricity a visible, perhaps daily, empathy and interest in understanding the customer. This manifests itself in many ways: using customer research to make decisions, reporting ‘voice of customer’ as the first part of an operations presentation, setting up processes that start with the customer’s process, prioritizing initiatives through with a customer and financial lens.
A CEO can help drive a customer-centric culture visibly demonstrate his interest in customers. In an operations review, ask customers think about current marketing or proposed marketing. Ask what they think about competitors. Go on customer visits, forward customer emails to staff, listen in on sales calls. There’s a lot more that can explicitly be done, but since culture is typically driven by the visible actions and policies from above, a CEO can help drive effective marketing by demonstrating his love for the customer. Anyone marketing leader working for him/her will know they should love and understand the customer as well. And so on to his people, and so on.

A CEO doesn’t have a lot of time. The most leveraged actions he/she can take to improve marketing is to make visible gestures of purpose that make it clear what kind of marketing culture, and organizational culture, is desired.


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