Why Marketing Classes Need More Business

By | November 14, 2017
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Kate RichlingThis is a guest post from Kate Richling. Kate is a Co-Founder and CMO at Birdsnest, the only strategic performance management suite built for agencies by agencies – creating a single source of truth between agencies and marketers. You can contact Kate on Linkedin or at kate@birdsnest.io.

Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital, recently wrote for Digiday that the old adage ‘Branding is everything’ is now ‘Everything is branding.’ This translates to significant change for the role of CMOs. With growing expectations from the rest of the C-Suite for marketing to garner business-level results, marketers and their service providers must be more strategic than ever.

Marketing’s Demise by Data

The digital age provided us with unprecedented access to all-new data streams. Today’s martech and adtech solutions attempt to make sense of all that data through turnkey reporting. However, most martech and adtech solutions emphasize metrics that don’t matter as much to the business as they do to marketing KPIs. Data like impressions, views and time on page are important in the thick of it – but this in the weeds–type data is typically more useful for determining tactical output or next steps. In this case, the very tools that marketers rely on to measure business impact, and demonstrate high-level value, could be contributing to their demise with a misguided focus on symptoms rather than the cause.

“’There’s been a lot of lip service to this notion that CMOs are supposed to drive revenue. What we find is they’re not anywhere where they should be,’” Executive Director of the CMO Council Donovan Neale-May recently told CMO.com. “‘Marketers want to be involved in strategic areas that can influence revenue, such as product development, sales acceleration, and strategy, but their tenures are still determined by their ability to make the short-term numbers, he explained…’ The fundamental shift in 2017 is getting CMOs to walk the talk. It’s easy to say, ‘We contribute to revenue’…But let’s get down to how you’re impacting.’”

We’ve seen a seismic shift in what being a strategic asset means within businesses today, and the illusion of strategy and value that martech and adtech delivers is now fading. As Neale-May points out, there’s a divide between what’s expected of marketers and what they’re being measured on. It’s no wonder these solutions have exploded in popularity, but fail marketers with only 9% indicating their martech stack is even fully utilized, according to Sweetspot.

Changing Expectations and Blurring Lines

Then, there’s creative. I saw a recent back-and-forth on Twitter that sparked some healthy debate between industry insiders that went something like this – “There’s too many MBAs making creative decisions” followed up by “Not enough creatives making business decisions.” Today, the lines are increasingly blurred on how creative, marketing and business converge – and ultimately, who and what will grow the business most successfully.

Matthew Sweezey, principal of marketing insights at Salesforce, wrote for Ad Age just recently that, “The marketing world has a serious turnover problem. A recent study revealed that the average tenure of a marketer is 2.6 years – the shortest of any profession in the business world. The root of the problem is that too many business leaders see marketing departments as magical boxes of creativity. But creativity isn't magic; it should be seen as capital. Creativity can't be created or sustained, and the only fix is to see it as an asset that must be consistently fed, valued and nurtured.”

With blurring lines on expectations, we’re demanding a lot from marketing – with creative, data and analytics, strategy, growth, business-level goals all now falling somewhere within the role’s periphery. As we continue to watch these expectations mount, marketers’ capability sets, training and expertise must widen too in order to be successful.

CMO Talent Playbook

In response, Jeff Jones, CEO of H&R Block and former Target CMO, has helped lead the charge by gathering business leaders on addressing the CMO Talent Challenge. Other marketing influencers and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) have since released the CMO Talent Playbook. Their work is led by a charge to cultivate better marketing talent and refocus the role ­– attempting to actually address one cause of the marketer’s dilemma.

“Despite $1 trillion in total marketing spend, 52% of Fortune 500 companies reported declining revenues. As an industry, we need to drive more growth, and it has to start with the individual actions of those who lead (or ‘sit at the top of’) their company’s marketing function. It’s time for our community of chief marketing officers to seize ownership of the industry’s growth agenda.” – CMO Talent Playbook

Every January, Las Vegas hosts the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which also includes C Space, a more curated event for executive-level marketers to interact and discover new ways to grow their industries, businesses and brands. I had the opportunity to interview Jeff Jones as part of C Space, where he emphasized the importance of continuous growth. Jones shared how marketers must hone in on the end result, as opposed to a misguided focus on tactical results throughout.

“I always view strategy as about choices, no question. We try to be extremely focused on the guests we're serving, really clear about the growth we are trying to achieve and then it's about making the right choices to achieve that growth. Measurement is such a hot topic and I would say at Target we measure [strategic success] at lots of different levels,” explained Jones.

Jones further elaborated as part of a kick-off meeting for the ANA initiative: “What we can do to make a difference about the talent situation in marketing? Too many people end up in marketing, they don’t actually choose a career in marketing…Can we start an industry movement to focus on marketing and the chief marketing officer profession?”

The CMO Talent Playbook was born from just that – sharing that “CMOs universally agree that talent is a brand’s most important asset. That talent can come directly to the business or indirectly through agencies and other business support systems. However, the dearth of talent coming from academia and inadequate training and development strategies are reducing brand and business performance. The ANA has placed its full weight behind the goals of inspiring and elevating the quality of talent from the university system and building skills for existing employees.”

We Need More Business in Marketing

This got me thinking back to my own college experience, majoring in marketing and my career in marketing since, on both the agency and client-side. Sure, my college courses gave me both classroom and real-world application of advertising and PR knowhow, but there was very little talk of business. I was never taught about P&L, bottom line, liabilities, valuation, MRR, and a wide range of other business concepts and financial terms I refer to on a daily basis now.

In fact, there was no mention of financials or accounting in any of my classes at all. While we read “Blue Ocean Strategy,” “Crossing the Chasm” and other books rooted in how to achieve strategic success, and there was ample education on applying planning to marketing, there was nothing on business or operational management. For a long time, we’ve operated under an erroneous assumption that business education is merely for those who want to pursue a career in “business” – but what is marketing if it’s not business? 

Understanding core concepts and the operations of private enterprise have been imperative in the success of my own career, and the organizations I’ve worked at and for as an agency. These are core principles that are fundamental to organizational success. If marketing is about business success, marketers need to know them – and know them well.

Take the very structure and implications of sole proprietorships vs. partnerships vs. corporations – these applications of modern business management fuel marketing and its success. Consider the role of ethics and social responsibility today – fundamental business decisions that drive marketing efforts. These are lessons I’ve learned from mentors, absorbed from organizational leadership and researched on my own throughout the years. It’s hard to not feel let down by my alma mater, as these lessons haven’t been “nice to have’s” but rather, have been absolutely critical to not just my personal success, but the success of the businesses I’ve worked at and for as an agency and service provider.

How Marketers Can Help Lead the Charge

“This CMO Talent Playbook is a major step forward in our effort to help CMOs drive growth,” explained ANA CEO Bob Liodice. “It includes robust insights and actions CMOs can take to develop outstanding talent and improve business outcomes. Collectively, the examples within this playbook create a modern-day roadmap to help advance both individual CMOs and the industry’s leadership agenda.”

So let’s start…at the beginning. To develop outstanding talent, we must equip marketers, whether they’re still students or our own marketing teams, with the training, resources and encouragement of fundamental business-level concepts, imperative for success today. The CMO Talent Playbook asks marketers to stop and do one (or all) of the following:

  • Mentor – Make talent development and training one of your top personal priorities
  • Market – "Market Marketing" by visiting college campuses to speak with students about marketing and advertising.
  • Mobilize – Join the talent challenge with your peers, and collaborate on how to grow the industry for the future.

Join the growing list of CMOs dedicated to taking our industry back. Help those who haven’t had the opportunity of real-world experience to gain business prowess. We all benefit from understanding what drives business growth for our company – and how we can help achieve it. Empower them with the knowledge, transparency and a shared vision of what business success looks like and how you’re going to achieve it for your organization.