Marketers’ ‘marketing’ problem in the boardroom

Credit: Quantcast

Ever wonder what’s really being discussed at a board meeting?

During these meetings, board directors have a finite amount of time to address critical issues, ranging from company performance to corporate governance and the strategic direction of the company. Who has time for marketing and where does it fit in?

Marketing has a “marketing” problem in the boardroom. Some boards still have a simplistic view of marketing as the “fluffy stuff.” The questions center around brand perception and the latest ad campaign. While marketing is viewed as a necessary topic to cover, it rarely takes center stage. For skeptical board members, marketing is still viewed as a pretty subjective topic (did you like the ad?), and marketing ROI is still a mystery (what do those marketing people do?). They struggle to answer the famous question: Which half of our advertising dollars is being wasted? This makes sense; according to leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart, less than half of 1 percent of board seats in the Fortune 1000 have been held by active marketers. Indeed, marketing expertise ranked toward the bottom of the “wish list for new board directors’ backgrounds” at 21 percent while financial expertise ranked at the top at 62 percent.

At a time when business is becoming more data-driven and a direct relationship with the customer is both possible and necessary, marketing is more important than ever to the success or failure of a company. With the unprecedented velocity of digital disruption, companies are struggling with how best to accelerate growth—and the customer will always be at the heart of company growth. Who’s better positioned than the marketer to be the voice of the customer and to help the C-suite and the board put the customer at the center of the business?

This is a golden age for marketers, at least those who are able to fuse together the art and the science of the industry. Marketers have so many opportunities to lead. They sit at the nexus of every key growth driver of the company: brand, customer experience, data, design, digital, insights, media, product, sales, services, etc. Marketers are not simply responsible for building brands, they are building customer relationships. Marketing, properly applied, can be a growth engine of the company.

Sam Barnett

Damian Claassens

Meredith Long

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many marketers struggle to explain the link between marketing activities and financial performance. This should be getting a lot easier. With the amount of data and tools now at their disposal, marketers are in an incredible position to truly understand how their efforts tie back to the bottom line. And if they are leveraging the best tools in AI and predictive analytics, marketers today can see the patterns in customer behavior, identifying and even predicting what’s changed and how best to get consumer attention in the future. The role of marketing is now the connective tissue both internally throughout the company as well as externally into the marketplace, linking customers, partners and employees.

The role of the board is different from the role of management, of course. The board has a fiduciary responsibility to represent the best interests of the shareholders in the company. While it’s management’s job to present the plan for the business, it’s the board’s job to ask the hard questions about the plan. Is this the best possible plan and will it work? Is this plan effective in achieving the company’s goals? Does the plan have the right key growth drivers for the business?

This is where marketing can shine. Marketing’s role in the boardroom can help prove the effectiveness of the plan.

Here are four key questions that marketing is uniquely able to answer with data, not opinion:

  1. What are the key customer growth drivers of the business?
  2. Will our marketing and sales investment behind the key growth drivers deliver the planned results?
  3. Can we scale the key growth drivers?
  4. Are these key growth drivers sustainable over time?

Armed with deep knowledge of the customer, marketing can provide incredible ROI to the board as well as the business. Because of its focus on the customer, marketing is essential to driving growth of the company. The C-suite, including the CFO, and the board shouldn’t view marketing as “just another expense” if it’s tied to the key growth drivers of the business. The role of marketing at a company should be viewed as increasingly strategic by the board. It’s time for marketing to better market itself and show its own ROI in the boardroom.

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