I started my career in marketing some 12 years ago. That same year, MarketingWeek published an article stating that “70% of CEOs have lost trust in marketers”. In the decade that’s followed, not much has changed to reverse this position. Marketing leadership continues to be outpaced, outvoted and outcast.
AdWeek in 2021 picked up on the fact that only 26% of CMOs were regularly invited to board meetings. It has also been widely reported that chief marketers spend less time in the hot seat than any other C-Suite role.
You might recognise this situation in your own business. When was the last time you had a meaningful engagement with your marketing leaders? And by meaningful, I mean more than a cursory glance at some reports you didn’t understand, before deciding to move on with the strategy your sales team presented days earlier, because at least it had some grounding in reality and a semblance of fiscal numbers your CFO would sign off on.
The problem with this approach is that it is far too short-term. Sales are only focused on the quarter-in-hand, the quarter gone and the quarter ahead. You need marketing’s input to understand the longer-term impact of initiatives like branding, positioning and yes, advertising; but those numbers don’t so easily fit into the board presentations you’re familiar with.
Furthermore, the rift is systemic. Stepping down from the top rung, what does such a lack of connection mean for the rest of the marketers in your organisation, let alone their agencies? And what impact does that have on department efficiency and organisational effectiveness? It’s hardly motivating to bring your best self to work every day, with the knowledge that in all likelihood your boss isn’t going to be heard and perhaps, already has one foot out the door…
What went wrong?
Much of the blame for this lies at the feet of the marketing’s oft-lauded and as frequently misunderstood, digital strain. So much was promised by the meteoric rise of the internet and with it, social media and mobile connectivity.
Many of us marketers applauded when, in 2017, spending on digital media surpassed that of traditional advertising for the first time. O brave new world, with the promises of sophisticated attribution, minimal waste and marketing finally reclaiming their seat at the boardroom table.
However, the ‘measurement’ that came with digital marketing has clearly done little to enthuse other members of the C-Suite. Perhaps, as it turns out, “more” data, doesn’t necessarily translate to better decision-making. Rather than trying to find marketing’s true value in the wood of the forest of business, all that our relentless focus on performance advertising and marketing efficiency at the expense of effectiveness has done, is add more trees.
Even for those of us who spend every day in the marketing mire, it can be hard to pinpoint a single huckster or harbinger of our practice’s doom. But, having spent more time than I’d like to admit peddling the promise of programmatic media buying, I know as well as anyone that some of this century's “smartest” marketing ideas, simply never worked.
We all like to believe that what gets measured gets done, but the reality of modern marketing is that what gets measured more frequently obfuscates the failure of yet another marketing initiative, that was doomed to fail from the start.
For all the promises of delivering greater transparency and more power to the heels of marketers, many teams now find themselves floundering with too many tools, delivering too many different sets of data and too little ability to tie investment to real-world returns.
We were sold a lie, we bought it and now our teams lack the skills to bring us back from the brink of marketing obsolescence.
What can we do about it?
Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder that marketing has long played second fiddle to sales and lost the respect of customer service teams. Yet, I’m a believer and I don’t think it’s too late for CEOs to reconcile with their marketing colleagues, and take the rest of the top team on the journey with them.
Such alignment is only possible, however, from the top down. It takes great leadership, multi-directional communication and mutual respect and understanding, to agree on a path forward. But the future of marketing depends on it, as does the ultimate success of your organisation.
The lynchpin is revenue. Revenue unites all teams, from the marketers’ ability to prove the worth of their initiatives, to sales delivering on their targets, to customer service representatives dealing with great fit customers to maximise their success, retention and lifetime value.
In my humble opinion, this marketing renaissance can only be facilitated by addressing the skills gap mentioned above. The problem is not with digital and data itself. Technology truly is an enabler. The issue is that most marketers have absolutely no idea what to do with it, how it works or how we can use it to add value to the revenue-generating programmes that marketing departments can run.
We must start, therefore, by mending our own nets. We need proper marketing education, leading to confident, capable teams who can win back the trust of their peers. That requires an investment in front-line learning and bravery from CMOs to admit the limitations of their own knowledge and the capabilities of their colleagues. Now is not the time to save face. The CMOs of the future will embrace radical candour and possess the under-valued ability to manage up, as well as down.
Beyond simply paying for more online courses, CEOs need to create an environment in which this re-training can happen. Remove judgment, encourage collaboration and foster an appetite for self-improvement and shared success. You should strive to build teams that want to win together and coach each other to do better - and not just within the marketing discipline, but across revenue-oriented departments including sales and customer service.
Now more than ever, we need marketers who are confident enough to own strategy and equipped to demonstrate the progress they are making towards shared business goals. We need accountability, enabled by the correct application of digital tools.
If you can facilitate all that, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that marketers will regain the trust of their peers, ensuring more CMOs can secure long-term commitment and buy-in from their C-Suite colleagues, enabling them to push their programmes even further and work with cross-functional teams to deliver better revenue outcomes and more sustainable business growth, as a result.
Adam Bell is the Client Services Director at advertising agency, Yatter and and our go-to PPC advisor