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  • Why do I feel like I can rely on my CFO more than on my CMO?
  • Why does the marketing team always seem to underdeliver?
  • Why are they so focused on social media and digital campaigns, when they should be thinking about boosting sales?

If you’re a CEO, you’ve probably asked yourself these questions a few times. And if you’re a marketer, you know you’ve felt this to be true.

The mistrust dilemma

Back in 2012, Fournaise surveyed over 1,200 large corporations, decision-makers and SMB CEOs across the globe, both in the B2B and B2C sector and discovered that as much as 80% of CEOs do not quite trust or rely on their marketers. Overall, they believe that marketers are disconnected from the short- and long-term financial realities of the company, and that marketers too often lose sight of their number one priority, which, according to CEOs, is generating more quantifiable demand for the company’s products and services.

Meanwhile, the situation is not the same when it comes to sales. Quite the contrary, unmet sales goals are often linked to the inefficiencies of the marketing team.

Part of this can of course be explained by the historic development of business, marketing, PR and advertising; by antiquated yet still so deeply rooted definitions of marketing and what a successful marketing communications campaign looks like.

There was indeed a time when a simple press release with flowery language about a company’s recent success or a blog post about the many benefits of their products would still have some positive impact on the sales revenue.

Today, however, we know that the traditionally linear buyer’s journey that starts with a list of choices under consideration and ends with a final choice has been replaced by a cycle of research and multiple rounds of brands examined before a purchase is made, and the brand loyalty tested all over again.

We know that in order to truly stand out in the overwhelming sea of information and options, and hordes of marketers and salespeople chasing after our target audience, we need to deliver more than a quality offer and appealing pricing. We need to add value to our content, align with our audience’s values, provide excellent customer service, facilitate buyers’ decision-making process and make the online shopping element as fast and easy as possible. And on top of it all, we need to make sure all these activities come together in a strong and well-aligned brand strategy.

Why? Because, sooner or later, your competitors will copy every single savvy idea you have (if they haven’t already) and without that one unifying element – your brand – there is truly no way for your customers to identify with you, there is no reason or way for them to choose you over your competitors based on anything else but a price. And there is no way for you to stay in their minds when it comes to repeat business.

The execution-versus-strategy struggle

Another reason why marketers still struggle with being trusted and “understood” is clearly demonstrated by data in the aforementioned Fournaise survey, and often, the every-day business operations.

To begin with, the survey revealed that 69% of CEOs believe that B2C marketers place too much focus on creative output and social media parameters, such as likes, followers and shares, which CEOs do not believe to be critical to generating demand. What is more, 75% are also of the opinion that marketers misuse business terms like “ROI”, “results” and “performance”.

Meanwhile, in the day-to-day operations, marketers often have to juggle their long-term brand strategy with “quick wins” and smaller campaign tasks, from banners, Facebook ads for a company event to press releases that the senior management insists upon. They have to excel in daily social media communication and graphics, while also planning and implementing a redefined traditional retail experience in order to survive in the increasingly demanding modern marketplace.

In sum, marketers struggle with delivering on the expectations of following their long-term strategy and accomplishing all the additional requests along the way, particularly when senior management is not used to hearing “No” and does not quite trust their judgment anyway.

This makes it increasingly difficult to create and deliver on strategic company goals, which in turn affects marketing and sales outcomes and eventually reinforces the management’s belief in marketers’ lacking abilities.

Marketing is a two-way street

The solution to all this disconnect is agile marketing that’s built into the overall company design, and a mutually agreed strategic direction – an approach that is reported to grow productivity by 30% to 40%.

That means

  • An organisational design that facilitates a rapid exchange of information and fast decision-making process throughout the company. Essentially, if it still takes months to internally agree on the budget and content of a marketing campaign, you need to remedy that fast.
  • A corporate structure where the CMO is considered equal to the CFO, CIO, and others in the C-suite.
  • A long-term brand strategy, agreed upon at a senior level and created in line with the overall long-term business strategy.
  • A close collaboration between sales and marketing departments.
  • A marketing plan that is implemented in line with the brand strategy.
  • An agile marketing process that enables cross-team collaboration, data-based evaluations, tests, and fast decision-making process in order to react to unexpected challenges and new opportunities.
  • And last but not least, it is absolutely crucial to make sure employees fully understand and appreciate the brand and its business and marketing goals.

As you might have noticed, all these elements point to a collaboration and understanding beyond the marketing department.

This means that the CMO should aim to ensure an overall awareness of the importance and benefit of various marketing activities at the highest management level.

In addition, he or she needs to ensure they do indeed shape the marketing and brand strategy around the company’s business goals and communicate it accordingly – focusing on key ROI (Return on Investment) elements, such as

  • The Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC),
  • The Marketing Percentage of Customer Acquisition Cost (M%-CAC),
  • Customer Lifetime Value and its ratio to CAC,
  • The number of leads generated through separate marketing campaigns,
  • Lead quality, business potential generated by marketing,
  • Time to pay back CAC (the number of months it takes to earn back the CAC spent to gain a new customer),
  • Where the company ranks in Google results for their target keywords.

It also means less emphasis on likes, follower count, shares or even brand sentiment, particularly when dealing with a sceptical management.

To be truly successful, a marketing strategy requires willingness at the executive level to participate and agree on a long-term branding and marketing campaign, to involve the CMO in the creation of the long-term business strategy and to find coherence between the two. That means prioritising the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) defined in the marketing strategy and accepting that all desired marketing activities may not be implemented to an equal extent, nor within the same timeframe, particularly not in-house.

Finally, that means recognition that the marketing function itself needs transformation – from a traditional corporate, linear decision-making process to an agile one; from something that was done by a separate department to an interconnected web that includes in-house marketing and sales teams, agencies and the CEO, into a function that encompasses marketing, communications, as well as online and on-site branding strategy.

P&G recently demonstrated this understanding by announcing a company-wide reorganisation into six industry-based sector business units (SBUs) for its largest geographic markets. Each SBU will be responsible for all business facets in its region, including product innovation, supply chain and brand communications.

Many of the world’s top brands serve as an example to the significant impact a CEO’s involvement can have upon a brand. Apple and Steve Jobs is old news. Think of Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, Michael Dubin and Dollar Shave Club, or John Legere’s role in reviving a drowning T-Mobile, magenta-and-black uniform included.

Agile – more than a buzzword

At its core, “agile” means speed; responsiveness and adapting to change over strict adherence to a plan; collaboration over hierarchy; data over opinions and multiple small experiments over large bets (a.k.a. prototyping – coincidentally, one of the core functions of design thinking).

There are several techniques of alignment – interactive, imposed, synchronised, choreographed, and so on. – as well as different ways of implementing alignment efficiency, from a multi-project team to multiple teams. The technique chosen will likely depend on the goal and the timeframe set for reaching it.

An efficient approach would be to create a cross-functional team with a very clear goal and KPIs to implement different strategies, analyse, adapt and eventually finalise the optimal approach.

Given that a company-wide transformation is a demanding task, you might choose to entrust it with a senior-level interim executive or an experienced external agency, someone who can offer an expert and subjective perspective.

Either way, in order to implement all of the above, as well as to evaluate the present structure in place, ask yourself the following:

  • What is the current governance structure in place and how is it applied?
  • How is reporting managed and information shared within and among teams?
  • How fast is the current decision-making process? How long does it take to agree on a new strategic action plan or implement changes in an ongoing campaign?
  • What are my sales and marketing departments trying to accomplish and how do their current to-do lists contribute to my long-term brand strategy? Are they aligned or is my marketing department pressured to deliver quick wins, focusing on short-term execution rather than a larger brand strategy?

Call it agile, scrum or design thinking. The terminology here is not crucial. It is,  however, fundamental to have a company culture that reflects its marketing messaging (think communicating speed of service while taking eight weeks to decide on a new email campaign), an organisational structure that favours speed, and a brand strategy that leads in the same direction as your product development, IT, sales, HR and other teams, as well as external agency partners. Think orchestrating an ecosystem rather than managing a linear, approval-driven hierarchy.

Much like a marketer will not fully understand all aspects of operations, finance or IT, so a typical CEO will not, and dare we say, need not care about the intricacies of digital marketing campaigns, social media KPIs or the difference between inbound and outbound.

All that is truly needed is agile organisation and alignment among teams and strategies. In other words, a shared overall understanding of the business, the brand, its goals, its future, and what needs to happen to make this future a reality.

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