Marketing should not just sit in the boardroom, they should lead from the front

James McCarthy, CMO of Exonar, believes that only marketers truly understand the journey a consumer goes on to engage with a business.

someone leading a group of people

What do Marketers do besides ‘colouring in’? Among many in business, the perception still remains that marketing is all about clever messaging, design and shiny-looking campaigns that look fabulous but never amount to much in terms of sales leads or tangible impact.

In reality of course, brand and marketing is utterly fundamental and has a big impact on the success and growth of any business in its market, let alone hard metrics such as its financial valuation. But the fact remains that when it comes to throwing strategic punches in the boardroom, marketing has mostly been standing on the wrong side of the ropes. Research from Forbes shows that less than 1% of board seats in the Fortune 1000 are held by active marketers.

Without the insight that marketing brings, companies regularly use operational and inward facing perspectives to make strategic decisions that ultimately do not benefit the customer. These decisions may be driven by cost, efficiency, short-term financial targets, or simply the continuation of what used to be effective. Modern day consumers are only too happy (consciously or otherwise) to steer clear of these brands and choose a different, more attractive proposition, offered by more relevant organisations.

Relevance is all about understanding how customers are leading their lives and then responding dynamically, even if this is inconvenient for the organisation. By remaining laser-focused on critical elements of the customer experience, marketing leaders can help steer the business to drive sustained value and growth. You only need to look at cherished high-street brands such as M&S, who have been struggling for years in a competitive retail market to witness the damage caused by not responding to the changing needs of customers. This might partly be explained by the lack of customer voice in their boardroom – without a big-hitting CMO in their leadership team. The M&S brand is essentially rudderless from the top down, a brand-loyal customer base left repeatedly disappointed by company-centric decision making.

Marketing-powered boardrooms are not only a breath of fresh air, the companies they steer often grow faster and are able to establish themselves as ‘disrupters’ in their markets too.  By observing and addressing how customers live – their wants and aspirations, marketing-driven businesses run circles around companies that have been built over decades to meet the needs of yesterday.  And it’s not just happening in consumer brands, it’s happening every day in the business-to-business world too.

This is all drawn into sharp focus because customers wield far more ‘power’ than ever before. In this digitally democratised world of smartphones, apps and convenience, customers are encouraging disruptive companies not only to flourish, but to re-shape the way the world works. What this newly empowered customer demands is that the boardroom understands them and delivers products and services on their terms.

Maybe things are finally changing. The Director Institute reported that it has seen a 60% increase in the number of briefings where marketing is requested as a core skill set of a future board member.

Marketers need to arm themselves with data

So the newly hired CMO arrives for their first board meeting, bringing with them deep knowledge of the market, focus on customer experience, and the ability to translate that into business growth.  The next challenge is how to lead a room full of non-marketers and tell a story that the organisation can believe in and, more importantly, invest in.  The answer has to lie, partly at least, with smart use of data.

One of the hallmarks of the digital revolution is the explosion of data and information, as a by-product of the world’s digital and online activity. Within that data is the insight required to measure and analyse customer experience like never before.  With that data, numbers-driven models for growth can be built, delivering the kind of hard facts that hard-nosed CFOs find compelling.

Data can come from external sources, or in established companies from a myriad of internal data sources, from customer care systems, billing systems, sales history or website behaviour. Written customer reviews can be analysed for sentiment and social media insight readily discloses what is in the mind of the people.  All that information is very much in addition to the kind of campaign conversion and CRM data that marketers are so tactically focused on.

If the answers to strategic direction lie in data, the challenge becomes how marketers work with IT people internally (and data-driven agencies externally), to gain access to it.  In short, the CIO and the CMO need to talk more.

Marketing and data will bring boardroom strategy to life 

According to Deloitte research, only 5% of CMOs consider themselves high-performers, which could go some way to explaining why marketing has lacked a voice in the boardroom for so long.  Armed with data and expertise, marketers should take confidence in their abilities to play a central role in identifying valuable data and interpreting it to drive decisions that will delight the customer.

I believe that experienced marketers are perfectly positioned to step up and drive the business strategy from the very top. While some will never understand our role in business, customers will always reward marketers with their loyalty when we drive change that improves their experience.

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