Has your CEO set up your marketing team to fail rather than succeed?

No matter the size of your company or organisation, from a micro-business of one or two to a multinational corporation of many thousands, there is a need for a marketing function or discipline. It may not be obvious initially. Many successful entrepreneurs have natural marketing ability. And often many mistake sales for marketing, or worse, see marketing as simply sales support.

But as Peter Drucker famously observed “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business”.

It is important to remember that when Drucker refers to marketing, he does so in the broadest definition of marketing. This is not simply marketing communications, but the practice and discipline of how the organisation and its products and services are presented to the market. Traditionally this was considered the 4Ps of marketing, being Product, Pricing, Placement and Promotion.

So, as the CEO or the Managing Director or a leader of the organisation, the question is not whether marketing should be a function in your business. Instead, the question is – have you integrated the marketing discipline into your organisation in a way that drives success rather than failure?

The reason I address this question to you as a leader of the business, is because David Packard, one of the two founders of HP also famously said “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department”. What he meant is marketing is so important to the success of the organisation that the leaders should ensure it is set to drive business success and not simply be relegated to an after-thought.

So, the question often then becomes – how have you, as the leader of your organisation, positioned the role of marketing?

This is a key issue, because ultimately the efficacy of the marketing function in driving performance and growth depends on how it is positioned and subsequently funded, resourced and recognised within the overall organisational structure.

Typically, there are three broad positionings for marketing within organisations. Marketing can be positioned to provide strategic leadership, act as a valued colleague or be a service provider.

  • Strategic Leadership can be seen in brands such as Nike and Apple, often used as examples where product innovation, premium pricing, distribution and promotion are seen as the foundations of the strategic growth of the brand and the company. The strength here is the role marketing plays understanding the customer and developing and aligning strategies to take advantage of those customer insights through product innovation and promotion. They are also unique in the fact that both have a tradition of leaders who are heavily invested in the marketing function.
  • Valued Colleague is more often associated with services brands, such as the Quick Service Restaurants, including McDonalds, Burger King, Yum and the like. Here marketing is a trusted partner. Rather than playing a leadership role, it works in collaboration with the operations of the business to inform and guide the strategic direction of the company.
  • Service Provider is too often the default marketing positioning for the large majority of organisations. In large organisations, marketing will be decentralised and aligned as a service provider to particular business units or silos. In smaller businesses, it is expressed where marketing is simply positioned as the support to the sales function. Both of these approaches position marketing as the service provider, be it decentralised or a sales supporter, diminishing the opportunity for marketing to drive growth. Not just short-term monthly sales targets – it is also longer-term growth, filling the funnel for the next quarter and the next year.

The problem for business leaders and their marketing teams is that rarely does this conversation, around defining the expectations of marketing, actually happen.

Worse still, there are often mixed messages and a misalignment of expectations. In all types of organisations, we hear of marketers being appointed with the expectation that they will drive business growth through designing and managing the customer experience, only to find out that their sole authority is over the marketing communications budget.

On the one hand the expectation is wide, and enterprise-focused. On the other hand the resources and influence they have to achieve these goals amount to no more than simply managing the ads. No wonder marketers are often seen to fail to live up to expectations, and even worse, considered to be nothing more than the ‘promotions’ or ‘colouring in’ department.

As the leader of an organisation it is important to consider the role marketing plays. Do you follow Drucker and build your marketing function in its broadest sense across the organisation, or is marketing simply a service provider to your business success? Whatever you decide, the important thing is to make sure you recruit the capabilities and provide the resources and the authority for marketing to take on that responsibility and deliver to your expectations.

Of course, not every business is an Apple, or a Nike, or a McDonalds. But marketing well positioned, well-resourced and well executed will contribute to business growth and success in the short, medium and long term, rather than simply being a cost centre called the ‘colouring-in’ department.

This article first appeared on The First5000 on March 26, 2020

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