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Marketing without Authority is Marketing without Accountability

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) published a piece describing the modern challenge for CMOs and why these marketing leaders tend to not last but a few years in such roles.  The authors say many CMOs are “limited mostly to marketing communications” and have “limited influence over” products and pricing, among other business factors.

The piece goes on to describe the mismatch between expectations and responsibilities of senior marketers, which boil down to this:

“Typically, CMOs aren’t given enough authority to do what’s expected of them.”

I find that statement is often true for the entire marketing shop in many organizations. Business leaders want to hold marketing accountable, but they don’t empower them with the authority to execute.

Too often, executives will show up late in the marketing cycle and casually throw a grenade on an idea, campaign, or program that’s been months in the making.  This invariably results in a flurry of activity, which takes days to settle.  When the dust finally clears, marketing lands in about the same spot as it was before…except it lost a week of productivity.

The 3 Causes of Marketing without Authority 

Certainly, trust is a key issue, and the HBR piece points to 2012 survey data that found 80% of CEOs don’t trust CMOs.  That study suggests the gap in trust is a result of marketers leaning too heavily on the art of their profession, rather than the science.

Some marketers are guilty as charged, but not all.  Furthermore, I’ve seen too many executives talk big about data-driven decisions, and then turn around and plot a new course based on the last thing a single person of influence whispered in their ear.

Marketing these days every bit as much about managing up as is about identifying and building markets. The job is twice as hard and my thesis is there are three central reasons.

Marketing needs to accept accountability, but it also needs the authority to execute. Marketing can’t have it both ways – and the business can’t either.

1) Product was divested from marketing

Classic marketing has four Ps – product, price, promotion and place – but in B2B technology, the management of a product has been all but divested from marketing.

As a result, the strategy is two or three degrees removed from marketing execution. Product marketing is relegated almost exclusively to sales enablement, and marketing becomes an order taker. I do not believe this is what Peter Drucker imagined when he said the role of marketing is to understand the customer so well the product sells itself.

Given the complexity of B2B tech products, a distinct product management function is clearly essential, but marketing must find its way back to the strategy table.  I see that path beginning with analytics, survey data and, despite the account management model, a direct dialogue with customers.


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2) Marketing has changed since college

For many executives, the last time they cracked open a marketing book was in college.  For those holding the top leadership billets, that could have been 20, 30, even 40 years ago.  It’s not much different for those that grew up in marketing early in their careers, before crossing into general management either.

If marketing struggles to keep current with trends, you can bet the business is further behind.  To clear, I don’t mean marketing has to be on the bleeding edge, but digital is a foundational component.  It’s really hard to have a basic conversation about marketing value when we’re not all working from the same lexicon.

Marketing must address this knowledge gap by educating executives.  This is a continuous process that pairs with expectation management and should be built into the marketing process just like any other program.

3)  Everyone experiences marketing 

Our primal brains are programmed to filter out the noise so we can focus on real threats.  This means it is really hard to earn attention, and so marketing has turned to interruption:

  • Intrusive popups are thrust between you and the content you seek;
  • Unwelcomed messages clogging up your social streams;
  • Email solicitations – you don’t know how you got on the list and can’t get off;
  • The sheer epidemic of robocalls; and
  • A pair of shoes you didn’t buy that now follow you all over the web.

Aside from customer service, few people experience other business functions — accounting, finance, legal, development, professional services — the way they experience marketing…and most of it isn’t positive. Yet it is frames of references like these that many in business have when they speak to marketing, even if they are on the same team.

There’s a lot of discussion about the effects of experience on marketing.  Slide 54 of the Meeker report cited data saying a remarkable “82% of consumers stopped doing business after a bad experience.”

Marketing needs to realize the experience effect isn’t just limited to external audiences.

* * *

Marketing needs to accept accountability, but it also needs the authority to execute. Marketing can’t have it both ways – and the business can’t either.


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Photo credit: Pixabay (CC0 1.0)

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