Transforming marketing to be a strategic function

7 min read by Tyler Webb-Harding 30 Sep 2022

The better your brand is perceived internally, the stronger it will be in the outside world. It’s always been the case of course, but in today’s omnichannel environment, support from the top down is essential. So how do you reach that magic point where marketing is respected as a strategic function? It’s quite simple. Give us the authority, and we’ll happily be accountable.

Consider the scenario. A government entity has a social mandate to build houses for as many people as possible. The stakeholder is under pressure to deliver a return, and has been invited to a meeting to review the plans. The CMO hasn’t been added to the agenda, so the board secretary is asked to update the stakeholder on pricing and positioning. It soon becomes clear that this information isn’t forthcoming and the room goes quiet. The CEO rings up the CMO afterwards:

“All these plans are out of date. We signed off the new ones at the last board meeting. Why don’t you know?” 

The dreaded question: “Why don’t you know?” Or sometimes even “Why the **** don’t you know?” can be directed at any function, but in this particular case, it was marketing in the firing line. 

Here we have a classic case of accountability not being matched by authority. A conflict of interest from the start, and confusion over how to price and position the product – basically everyone’s challenge, or at least a collaborative one. But the CMO still got blamed for not “sorting out the messaging.” 

Most CMOs have been there, and have lived to tell the tale. Yet still, many struggle to convince their superiors of their strategic importance to their business.  Some of the most talented CMOs step back into tactical roles, or leave the discipline altogether, simply because they’re tired of fighting their corner. So, rather than stepping back, how can we step up?

Break down the barriers

There are basic functions that enable organisations to grow and deliver returns to its owners: operations, sales, finance, legal, marketing & communications, HR, IT etc. When those functions collaborate with each other, the business will usually be more successful and profitable than when they don’t. Pretty obvious, and we’ve already mentioned it in the context of talent acquisition and retention. But breaking down barriers to achieve this requires authority.

Results get respect
The basic challenge for CMOs wishing to become and be seen as vital strategic components of a business is to earn that trust and respect from the CEO downwards. Armed with this support, CMOs can make confident decisions about how to meet commercial objectives. With their authority and accountability more evenly balanced, they’ll also be able to get across all the functions to achieve even more. But the only real way to earn that trust and respect is to deliver results, and to demonstrate how they have done so. A bit of a chicken and egg situation: without the authority, results are harder to achieve; but without the results, it’s harder to get the authority.

How to transform marketing into a strategic function – four takeaways

  • Engage the scientists

First, collect hard data that provides a 360 view of the customer. New marketing technologies make this a lot easier than it used to be. Then use that data to divide up responsibilities and targets with laser-like precision, so that a coherent plan can be devised and implemented. 

It should be like a machine, with all the moving parts working in tandem. Marketing teams need to be built differently, built not only on creatives but also data scientists and strategic consultants: geeks and suits together. Strong ideas are fine, but they need to be understood and appreciated by business leaders who don’t speak the language of marketing. 

  • Link output to outcome

Thirdly, create a clear and credible link between the original data, the plan and the measurement. The digital age makes measurement far more transparent, far more granular and therefore, in theory, far easier. “If there’s money in the till, it worked. If there’s not, it didn’t,” according to one cynical CEO many decades ago. 

But followers, hits, impressions, likes, shares and retweets make it possible to link outputs with outcomes much more accurately. So there’ll be correspondingly more insight into how the business and its brand is faring in its market more generally, both in absolute terms and compared to its peers. 

CMOs need to show both how they are contributing to profitability but also how they are improving the value of the brand; and they need to do so with hard-core evidence.

  • Take it strategic

A lot of the activity being measured will often be tactical, but over a period of time, if it’s part of a more sustained campaign, it inevitably becomes strategic. If it’s linked to, say, a new product launch or a new service, or even a corporate event, then it obviously is. 

Plus, if the CMO is consulted and confided in early enough, they can help formulate the strategy and make it far more meaningful and impactful. This is the natural step towards having a seat at the CX table, another key element of being a strategic partner. 

Being brought into the loop at the last minute and told to cobble together some collateral and messaging – to “bash out a brochure and press release” – is a nightmare. It’s not much different from an IT engineer being told to “sort out my f***ing laptop.” 

  • Talk like you mean it

CMOs whose CEOs instinctively understand the importance and value of marketing and communications are obviously at a much greater advantage. Where the CEO is a natural and charismatic communicator, it’s even better, because the enthusiasm can become infectious – and it’s easier to make the CEO look good, which always helps.

In a digital and automated age, these arguments may seem simplistic; but when a CMO’s purpose is to influence decisions that human beings make, human behaviour can make or break a successful strategy.

In summary: courage is key

Marketing, as a customer-led discipline, is well placed to provide valuable insight on how to grow a business and enhance its reputation, and on the steps that achieve that. It stands to reason that those responsible for the company‘s reputation and ability to cut through to its customers should have a seat at the table that decides on those actions. 

CMOs should not be afraid to make this argument to their superiors. As the CMO at a global financial services firm put it, “We need to lead, not follow, to become more influential in driving decisions and strategy.” 

In other words: give us the authority and we’ll happily be accountable.

Need help to engage the right partner? StrategiQ offers the help you need. Start the conversation today.

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