Duncan Shand: Why CEOs don’t trust marketers. And how to fix it


I read a story last week about why CEOs don’t trust their marketing chiefs. One thing in the story that stood out for me was that the average tenure of a marketing director is only 40 months and it’s getting shorter. Why do marketing directors have the highest turnover of any leadership-level positions?

Clearly, it’s a challenging role focused on growing the business and there’s always immense pressure to do this and deliver now. The short-term, fast-paced, instant gratification world we live in, isn’t aligned to the time and effort that is generally required to deliver sustainable long-term growth. Add to that the ongoing disruption of so many industries, not to mention a global pandemic, and it’s easy to see why tension often exists between the marketing director and CEO.

This constant pressure is probably responsible for the number one mistake many marketing leaders make, prematurely leaping to a tactically-led marketing plan. With the pressure to get results and the parallel seduction to do something cool, often marketers are tempted to leap in without a solid strategic plan. Making a lot of assumptions and taking a short-term gamble isn’t generally a good recipe for success.

Instead, the key to turning this around is to build confidence and trust not only with the CEO but with the whole leadership team by focusing on sharing and delivering a strongly aligned marketing strategy. There are four key things marketing directors should focus on to help achieve this.

Business first. As the customer champion, you should be driving or at least having a major say in shaping the organisation’s strategic goals to deliver to the ever-changing wants and needs of the customer. Everything you do should be tightly aligned to helping deliver the broader company goals. And don’t get caught up in marketing jargon. Yes, we need to manage brand equity, reach, tarps and impressions, funnels, CTRs and CTAs – but these are all meaningless to the board, CEO and leadership team unless you paint the connection back to hard business metrics. Talk business; sales, revenue, leads, growth, profit, turnover, satisfaction, loyalty.

Support the leadership team. Understand what the rest of the leadership team are trying to achieve and why. Understand their plans and objectives and demonstrate the alignment between what you are both doing to achieve the organisation’s overall goals. Marketing needs to intricately understand and care about how the business works – how operations deliver, the complexity and timeframe of IT projects, what’s challenging the sales team, and whether or not people are aligned to the organisation’s purpose and values. Without this alignment, any acquisition wins will be short-lived. Make sure people see the connection between your activity and their plans. Then deliver.

Build confidence. Don’t over-promise, be realistic about what time and resources you will need. Then take the time to develop your plan and take the leadership team along with you. If they don’t understand the plan and rationale, then they are unlikely to have the same confidence as you do in your approach. You may need to help them understand – take them through case studies, share research, recommend articles or books to read. Bring them on the journey with you.

Have a strong philosophy. To counter the dangers of the early tactical rush, it’s critically important to develop a strong credible marketing philosophy and explain it to the business. You need to take the time to develop your point of view and ensure your plans are backed up by credible research rather than guessing or chasing the latest shiny marketing fad. At the same time, you do need to be investing and learning too. Find the right balance.

Develop and share your strategic point of view on how marketing plans drive results. Do you plan to win via customer intimacy, product leadership or operational excellence? Will you focus on building brands or driving growth through tactical promotions? Do you believe in tight media targeting or do you focus on occasional users and cast your net wide using broad reach? What drives you – community, customers or shareholders? Answering these types of questions will help your CEO and leadership colleagues understand what drives your marketing philosophy and approach, how it underpins your plans and activity and how it will significantly increase your chances of winning.

Ideally, marketers should be very clear about their strategic marketing goals over a 3-5 year timeframe, driven by more specific annual plans targeted to the needs of the business, market and customer during that period. While we now operate in a world where “long-term” planning of any type feels like a “once upon a time” luxury, it’s still important for marketing directors to set a longer-term vision and set their teams up to be in the strongest position possible to pick and choose the best options along the way to achieve that vision.

So regardless of the ongoing global challenges and shifting timeframes, develop a clear marketing vision for the business, share your philosophy and approach, use the research to support a clear plan to get there and be clear about the metrics you’re using to measure your progress. A vision, a plan, clear goals and metrics.

I’m sure your CEO will buy into that.

– Duncan Shand is the managing director of YoungShand (duncan.shand@youngshand.com)

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