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  • Sam Decker

How to Make Marketing Matter

Nick Wreden wrote a fantastic post and article for CMO Council on "How Marketing Can Stay Relevant". I wholeheartedly agree with his perspective, and it deserves this “amen” posting with links to related postings.

His point: To stay relevant to the CEO, marketing has to speak the language of business metrics and collaborate with more cross-functional parts of the business…

  1. A survey of 370 marketing and non-marketing executives, conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, revealed that 75 percent believe marketing has become more important to their firms over the past five years.

  2. Despite its importance, however, marketing is not getting the respect that all those in marketing think they deserve.. Vice Presidents of marketing have a notoriously short shelf life. According to executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, the average CMO tenure lasts only 23 months.

  3. The reasons for marketing’s exile to the corporate doghouse are familiar. Competition has increased and shareholder patience has shrunk more than product cycles. The mass economy, with its simple, predictable marketing tools, is dead. Consumers are more fickle than loyal.

  4. The typical answers revolve around marketing’s insistence on marching to the beat of its own drummer, even though that makes it out of step with the rest of the organization. For example, the Conference Board found that the top four chief executive challenges for 2004 were: 1) top-line growth (52 percent), 2) corporate agility (42 percent), 3) customer loyalty and retention (41 percent), and 4) innovation (31 percent). By contrast, Booz Allen Hamilton found that marketing executives were focused primarily on: 1) branding guidelines (83 percent), 2) counseling divisions (52 percent), 3) best-practice sharing (52 percent), and 4) developing capabilities (47 percent). No wonder the ANA concluded: "Marketing is disconnected from the CEO agenda."

  5. Signs of disconnect are everywhere. Marketing prattles on about "brand equity;" CEOs are focused on retention and customer equity. AdWeek ranks agencies by how much they persuaded clients to spend with them. BusinessWeek ranks firms by profitability and shareholder value.

  6. To address this gap, marketing needs to talk the language of business. That means more than paying obligatory homage to ROI…more than using surrogate metrics like "awareness," which has no quantifiable impact on the bottom line. It means using some of the advanced features of Excel. As the ANA study put it: "Some marketing chiefs value unbridled creativity and innovation over multivariate regression models that isolate the incremental consumption delivered by a new ad execution."

It also requires becoming much more knowledgeable about other organizational areas. If branding is defined in terms of being able to sense, deliver and capture customer value, then marketing executives must have working knowledge of supply chain, financial, and product development management as well as ad and PR execution. (See "12 Ideas to Sell Ideas")

His findings reinforce the need for Six Sigma in marketing. If nothing else, this framework delivers a Y=f(x) rigor to the marketing division that forces marketers to understand what measures in their business deliver profit. Since there aren’t a lot of measures in branding guidelines, they will be forced to double-click on the dusty Excel icon!

With that said, in many tech- and engineering-based companies, marketers can actually swing too far left and forget that people buy on emotion (even in B2B). One of my pet peeves is the homogeneity and white-paper-speak found in most B2B software web sites. Marketers can bury their head in the numbers and forget to lift up, listen to the customer, and deliver an emotive story that persuades. In absence of this skill or knowledge, they copy; or, they accept the imitation their agencies deliver as "good creative".

Therefore I suggest you aspire for the ‘middle brain’ competency. Maintain an agile balance between the customer and the business. Be a marketer who understands the measures and levers in the business that drive top-line growth, margin and operating expense. Also be a voice of the customer. Be a marketer who can get in customers’ shoes, empathize with their needs, and know how to tell your message with surprise and delight that speaks to customers in their language. Be someone who can evangelize customer needs, desires and what you are really selling (i.e. Starbucks is not selling coffee).

In short, juggle the art and science of marketing, while riding a unicycle of communication, strategic, and organizational agility.

Marketers who can speak both languages will be highly treasured.


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