Innovation, Marketing Effectiveness

“Come now. Let’s make us a soup with the CMO.”

I’ve had a dream where, in the C-suite, all the important Cs were seated together at one end of a long shiny table, and the CMO, with his pink pocket square, was seated alone at the other end of the table. The CMO smiled uneasily at the other Cs. The smile was not returned. The CEO then brought out a voodoo doll and placed it on the table. The doll had on a pink pocket square too. The COO brought out a set of knives and handed a knife each to the other Cs. The Executive Vice President for Sales asked for and got three knives. The door lock clicks in place. The blinds come down. The CFO smiles balefully at the CMO. The CMO gulps. I wake up.

In another life, I want to be a CFO, a COO, a CTO, or whatever C whose relevance is never questioned. I’ll renounce my association with those dubious fellows I’d hung out with all my life: ‘brand essence,’ ‘brand affinity,’ ‘positioning,’ ‘Top of Mind,’ ‘impressions’ and all the other wispy concepts we marketing folks swear by. I’ll very harshly kick the lot of them out onto the street and never look back. Including those new fellas with the swanky hats and dapper jackets, I’ve been spending time with lately – ‘social buzz’ ‘social currency,’ ‘Likes, shares,’ ‘views’, ‘engagement’ or ‘SEO’ Out on the dump all of them. Then I’ll make new friends. I’ll befriend Microsoft Excel and Bean Counting. There can’t be any disputation on the wisdom of that Igbo proverb: “It is from the house of a coward that we point to where a brave man used to live.” Overpowering, the law of self-preservation.

In the C-suite, the Chief Marketing Officer is perhaps the least respected and trusted executive. It will appear that the seeming inability of marketing to link expensive marketing expenditure to sales, revenue or EBITDA engendered this pariah-hood. The summary of a research conducted by the Fournaise Marketing Group, a company specializing in marketing performance measurement and management, posits that 80% of CEOs have lost trust in their marketers and that this lack of trust has resulted in the CMO “losing a seat at the strategic table” and often rank lower in title and stature within their organization.

Some of the key findings of the study are:

73% of CEOs think CMOs lack business credibility and are not the business growth generators they should be. Ouch.

77% of CEOs believe CMOs keep talking about the brand, brand values, brand equity and other similar parameters that are difficult to link back to the stuff that really matters: sales,  revenue, EBITDA or Net Profit.

67% of CEOs believe marketers don’t think enough like businesspeople: they focus too much on the creative, “artsy” and “fluffy” side of marketing and not enough on its business science. Double ouch.

The report alleges that the situation is so exasperating for many CEOs that they have stopped setting KPIs and KPOs for their CMOs.

I can’t blame CEOs for this disenchantment. After all, if I was starving and went in to a restaurant and paid for a meal, I’d want my meal now and not at a future date. A pitch by the cashier of a more delicious meal if I came back tomorrow will most likely get the cashier a black eye. Fascinatingly, I can draw a parallel between the view of the CEO as regards the importance (or lack of it) of his/her CMO and how some marketing folks view and treat their ad, PR, or digital agencies (you know what they say; abused kids make abusive fathers).

The call for marketing to be accountable has grown very strident. The problem is, marketing as presently constructed isn’t just capable of giving that type of accountability. Can marketing unearth penetrating consumer insights? Yes, it can. Can it build consideration? Yes, it can. But can it make people buy? Well, short of pointing a gun to the head of a consumer and leading him or her to your aisle, no sir, it can’t. And why not? Because people are, well, people. We just aren’t reducible to a predictive algorithm.

Obviously, the degree of frustrations with marketing varies by companies and industries. Some companies are more marketing-oriented than others and such companies tend to be sympathetic towards the challenges of marketing. I can’t imagine the other Cs at Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble or Unilever calling for a sit-down with their CMO with Kalashnikovs in attendance.

So, given that most CEO are tired of hearing talks of  ‘affinity,’ ‘TOMA,’ ‘consideration,’ ‘brand salience’ and other’wispy’ marketing metrics, what is the salvation for marketing? Well, I think marketing should drive more relevance in Innovation and R&D. This is a logical territory for it since marketing (supposedly) understands the consumer more than anyone else in the business. It must use the consumer insight and knowledge of consumer to drive business growth.

Well, let’s sit everyone down at the table again and have honest conversations. This time, no voodoo dolls. No shiny knives.

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