As we kickstart a new year, we reflect on the evolving and exciting role of marketing and on the common traits of the most successful marketers.
Marketing is a profession unlike any other in terms of the incredible diversity of roles and skill sets
Today the role of marketing is incredibly varied and increasingly specialist with significant variations in terms of functions, skill sets, expertise and KPIs across businesses and industry sectors as technology and data drive much of the transformation happening in business. It has never been a more exciting time to be a marketer as many businesses align their focus to the central goal of marketing, which is to drive profitable growth by creating value for the customer. Indeed, the use of new technologies aided by data and analytics makes it easier today for marketers in certain industry sectors to segment and target customers with precision in real time and to demonstrate their effectiveness at generating demand and converting intention to purchase along the customer journey in a way that has never before been possible.
Responsibilities and metrics also vary between companies and industry sectors
Commonly most CMOs/Marketing Directors and their teams have responsibility for marketing strategy and implementation, brand strategy, insight generation and customer metrics – but beyond that the range of responsibilities from pricing to sales, innovation, lead or demand generation, corporate reputation, digital strategy, e-commerce, customer experience, data analytics and distribution differs significantly between sectors. In our last Alternatives & MII survey, results suggest that in some sectors such as construction, logistics, professional services, education and healthcare, marketing tends to be viewed as a less strategic function limited to brand and communications and as a cost rather than an investment, but in many sectors such as drinks, food, gaming, e-commerce and motor, marketing plays a central role in determining the business strategy to achieve commercial objectives and drive growth with marketers often having P&L responsibility.
Differing attitudes and understanding about the role of marketing persist
The variations in responsibilities and metrics can be explained by differing attitudes and understanding of what marketing is and what it can deliver. Indeed, the increased complexity and varied nature of marketing today makes it a challenge for companies when it comes to determining the role marketing should play in the company and hiring CMOs. Frequently there is a mismatch between the expectations of the organisation and the actual remit of the role because of the general confusion and lack of uniform expectations about the role of marketing in general and the knowledge and skill differences among marketers. It is common for job descriptions to describe a role in which the CMO is expected to change the overall performance of the business yet doesn’t oversee the pricing, innovation, CX, sales and distribution channels or budgets to deliver it. Or classically for a company to say they want to become more customer driven and customer focused without the actual appetite to invest in those areas and change how they operate.
The common traits of the most successful marketers and marketing teams
Many of Ireland’s most successful marketers overcome these challenges by essentially co-creating their role, responsibilities and metrics with their CEO or senior executive team after detailed discussions regarding the future strategy of the organisation, organisation structure and short to long term commercial objectives, thereby avoiding the pitfall of a mismatch between expectations, responsibilities and actual ability to have an impact.
Successful senior marketers are also very adept at understanding that companies have different needs, challenges and goals and they adapt their discourse to speak the same language as the business. So, for example in FMCG the discourse is centred on consumer insights, brand and innovation; in Financial Services, Utilities and Tech, the language of marketers will be around customer and products, proposition development or CX; in B2B organisations it will shift from customer to client, from brand to reputation, from values to culture, depending on the context and the audience.
Successful marketing teams also ensure their focus and metrics are aligned with the commercial objectives of the business. They learn the language of the boardroom and seek to align marketing activity to the business metrics which matter to the executive team. Where they are not in the position to take on end to end commercial metrics due to lack of ownership of the end to end sales funnel, they work with their peers in sales, product management and technology to agree and co-share relevant metrics.
Successful marketers also demonstrate tremendous dexterity and agility in their thinking and are empirical in their approach. They challenge, create hypotheses about marketing interventions, ask which behavioural assumptions would need to be correct for their hypothesis to hold true and what data would disprove it. They are willing to change their minds publicly when new data proves them wrong and experiment and learn from failure. They are more attached to demonstrating effectiveness and delivering ROI than the campaigns they develop. Critically they recognise that although the principles of great marketing remain the same whatever the sector, the brand or whatever names it goes by, it is there to serve the interests of the business and not the other way around. They inculcate this understanding within their teams.
A bright future
Marketing remains one of the truly customer centric and market focused functions within the organisation which can directly impact how and the frequency with which customers purchase or engage with the business. Which other function in an organisation has to the same extent such a strategic view of the customer and how to grow a brand or business-as well as the ability to partner internally with other parts of the business and externally-to drive that growth?
As long as we continue to nuance our discourse, align our activities to the business metrics which matter and resolutely seek to achieve and demonstrate commercial effectiveness while building great brands, products and services that customers will want to buy, the future looks bright. Indeed, there is significant reason to believe that as long as we are ambitious enough, we will continue to go all the way to the top in ever increasing numbers.
About the author
Bernie Keogh is Managing Director of Alternatives, the marketing and customer talent solutions business.