Is your company ready for a CGO?

A focus on growth could be a distraction too far for marketers, according to Ben Little, founder and director of Fearlessly Frank.

A laptop displaying statistics

In just a few short months, the world has turned upside down. Marketing, particularly, has been affected and few companies in this pandemic are focused on growth – rather, surviving the crisis is the order of the day.

Yet, now might well be the best time to consider both the growth agenda and the role of marketing itself. The current crisis will inevitably lead to a resetting of global behaviours and how businesses operate. Having spoken to numerous chief marketers and CMOs in recent months – both before and after this pandemic took root – it is clear marketing must change.

It is time to remember and revert to the four core pillars of marketing: price, product, promotion and place.

As many businesses battle to remain afloat it is no surprise they have either turned off the marketing budget tap or directed it to performance activity only, itself a small part of the promotion piece.

However, this would be a mistake. While performance – even wider promotion – can help in the short term by providing a super-boost for sales, by itself it can’t save a brand. Marketing communications have never worked the way the industry wants to believe; there is scant evidence that advertising is the sole cause, and sales are the effect.

At a recent CMO roundtable we hosted, Sherpa CMO Patrick Muir summed the rush to performance as “a watering down of the CMO role to one where in many, many companies it’s a little more than lead generation”.

It’s important to separate growth from performance

Let’s also consider what we mean by ‘growth’. There has been a trend towards giving marketers a ‘growth’ function to their role; in reality it is ‘performance’. Marketing and marketers have long confused revenue and profit, focusing on the former instead of the latter – a far truer brand barometer.

Think: if a million pounds is spent advertising a product with 10% margin, you have to make an additional £10m in sales just to pay back the initial campaign investment. It’s not turning a million pounds into £11m, merely breaking even.

True growth is about sustainably building the business bottom line, not sales volumes for the sake of it. Marketers must separate growth from performance and refocus on all aspects of the marketing mix in order to deliver for the customer and all of the business’s stakeholders.

Only by doing so will they build a strong brand purpose that will see them through this crisis and into the new world ahead.

These are uncertain times – nobody quite knows what the world will look like when we come out of lockdown. Harsh though it might sound, this is also the perfect time to re-evaluate where our marketing efforts have been, where they need to be now, and where they might be in the future.

Brand purpose and growth

The temptation right now when we are focused on overly short-term goals, is to drive all of our efforts into performance. Performance matters, but only in conjunction with marketing’s traditional four Ps – price, product, promotion and place.

The marketing industry must wake up to the realisation that there are many levers they can pull: it is not only performance or only advertising. Simply, it is a lot more nuanced than that.

Brands must show customers what they truly stand for in everything they do – what they sell, how they sell it, how much they sell it for, how we structure their businesses to make a positive contribution to society and the planet, as well as the language and approach they use to express all that. If this was important before, it is doubly so now.

The role of the modern marketer – a time for brave leaders

Earlier I said that many marketers favoured revenue over profit. It is perhaps why, of the C-Suite, marketers are rarely considered to step up to the top job when chief finance officers or commercial heads are. Yet marketers uniquely hold the keys to a brand’s success: most other board-level functions are internally focused while the CMO is the bridge to the outside world.

At a time that marketing is slipping down the C-Suite agenda, it’s time to remind ourselves of what marketing can do. Has it ever been more important to connect with the confused and anxious consumer?

One marketer I spoke to recently said her wish was for “braver leadership”. It’s marketers’ duty to educate the board about how important the customer is, how the world is changing and how consumers actually perceive the company or brand. To be brave about what propositions we put forward.

Wise words, said before UK lockdown took hold, but now more relevant than ever.

Performance marketing has a place – an important place – and works in the short term at least. But we need to think of it not as a strategy, but a tool, a way of putting the accelerator on – or the break off – of activity. In isolation, it is nothing.

For those who think beyond short-term metrics, revenue and sales volumes to true business growth – be that growth of purpose, profits and/or people – there will be a world of opportunity to come out of this.

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