Murray Howe founded Marktects, which helps align marketing with the business bottom line. From a business perspective, there is often a negative conversation about marketing, from referring to it as the colouring-in department or the black hole of the budget. Survey after survey talks of the dissatisfaction CEOs have with their CMOs, and the industry points to the short tenure of the CMO as a symptom and a cause.
But marketing, well executed and well positioned within any organisation, can drive customer-led growth. So why is this misalignment between business and marketing, and what can be done about it? Murray discusses the gap between marketing and business and shares how this can be closed by repositioning ‘brand and comms’ to an engine of customer-led growth.
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Hi, I am Darren Woolley, founder and CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultancy. And welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
From a business perspective, there is often a negative conversation about marketing, from the coloring department to the black hole of the budget. Survey after survey talk of the dissatisfaction CEOs have with their CMOs, and the industry points to the short tenure of the CMO as a symptom and a cause.
But marketing well-executed and well-positioned within any organization can drive customer-led growth. So, why is this misalignment between business and marketing, and what can be done about it?
To discuss this gap that often exists between marketing and business, and share how it can be closed by repositioning brand and comms to an engine of customer-led growth, please welcome to Managing Marketing, the founder of The Markitects, Murray Howe. Welcome, Murray.
Thanks Darren, and thanks for having me here. It’s a real privilege.
Well, look this is actually because I subscribe to your newsletter, and you sent through an article that you’d written about the gap that exists. And I’m always interested in gaps because it was one of the reasons I started TrinityP3 in the first place, is I could see a recurring gap between marketers and their agencies that I thought was an opportunity to fill.
But yours went much deeper to the gap that exists for marketing within many organizations, and I was really interested in wanting to delve into this a bit more today.
Yes, absolutely. And that particular article was one of a series that I’ve been using to explore how marketers can take advantage of changes that are going on in the marketplace and the organization around them, to better position themselves to do the job that I believe marketing is there to do, which is not the coloring in department.
And look, I used that deliberately in my introduction because I was invited by one of those big accounting firms to a meeting of CEOs in the city, a breakfast actually. And everyone was talking about growth in terms of sales.
And I put my hand up and I said, “Oh, what about the role of marketing within your organization?” And one CEO said, “Oh, the coloring department.” And they all laughed, and I was just absolutely shocked.
Now, these were medium-sized businesses, most of them in the B2B space. But I was fascinated by the perception of those CEOs, that marketing was somehow being reduced to the coloring department. And yet, anyone that’s worked in marketing, and you’ve made a career as a marketer, knows that marketing can have a huge impact on a business when it’s properly executed.
Yeah, you’re right, Darren. Listening to you talk makes me think about the very first time I think I wanted to be in marketing and I was at university. And I remember just sitting in a lecture hall and someone was talking about this guy called Peter Drucker.
What I mean is Peter Drucker said, “That the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer, and that the core function of any business is marketing and innovation. Everything else was a cost.”
When I saw that I thought, wow. In my mind, marketing was at the front of the bus, driving the bus. I thought that’d be a great place to spend your career. That wasn’t necessarily my experience as I got into my career.
And decades in, I was thinking, yeah, when do I get to actually drive the bus? But I still had this deep-seated. It really shaped my thinking to the point where I think like a lot of marketers, if there’s an issue between marketing the business, it’s the business’s problem. I know what’s going on. I’m a marketer, something’s wrong with the business.
Until I had the opportunity of working with a business consultant who by hook or by crook came into my orbit. And he made it very clear to me, he said, “No, the issue isn’t with the business. The issue is with marketing, and you need to learn how to better connect with the business.” And that was like a lightning bolt. And it actually changed the trajectory of my career in many ways from then on.
Yeah, it’s quite funny, isn’t it? Where marketers go into it thinking that they are the solution, but in actual fact, most organizations are made up of parts that all have to work together. You could have the best marketing in the world, but if the other elements of the business are not delivering on that, it’s largely a wasted effort, isn’t it?
Yes. And that’s the challenge I think, for marketing. There’s two challenges. One is, probably other than sales, every other function in the business is fairly well-defined and inward looking.
Sales is very much externally looking, but as you’ve just touched on, marketing looks internally and externally. And not only that, for marketing to be successful, they really can’t exist within their own silo. They need to orchestrate something across other departments. So, they are fairly unique in that respect.
Yeah. Do you think part of the problem is that not a lot of marketers actually make it through to being the CEO or the COO? I know that’s changing. We’re starting to see some high profile marketers make that breakthrough, but do you think it’s because marketing per se, is not necessarily appreciated by those that occupy the C-suite?
So, there’s a lady by the name of Kimberly Whitler who I came across a number of years ago. She’s a professor of marketing at the Darden School of Business in Virginia, and she’s an ex-CMO. And she writes a lot about this disconnect.
I came across her through a couple of HBR articles that she published some time ago. She’s one of the few people who take an academic interest in understanding the drivers of this disconnect. And I think you’re right.
She’s interviewed a lot of CEOs and a lot of C-suite board members as well to understand that question. And the number one thing that comes out of that is … well, there’s two things I think that come out of that.
One is, you’re right. There are very few marketers in those positions. So, ipso facto, those leaders do not understand that part of the business. They come up through operations, finance, legal, sometimes HR. They don’t really come up through IT. I think IT is lucky in the respect that no one knows what they do, and they’re all very, very much dependent on them operationally, which operations is what they understand.
Marketers are not very good at operations, I don’t think; not the way the business thinks of operations and so forth. So, I think there’s a natural disconnect there that exists.
The second issue is that unlike other functions (I think you touched on this earlier on this conversation), there’s an unfair expectation of the CMO. Not only do they not understand marketing and maybe what they want from marketing, but there’s also an expectation that marketing will fix whatever the problem is.
And yet Murray, we know that good marketing can actually exacerbate the problem because we could create demand through marketing that just makes the business’ ability to fulfill it even worse. I mean, worst case scenario, you actually make the business fail because it can’t actually deliver what you’re promising in your marketing.
I also wonder though sometimes whether the language of marketing is not necessarily anchored in business, because we are very good as a discipline at coming up with all sorts of terms. I’m constantly amazed every time there’s some new media opportunity or new distribution channel whatever, we develop all these new terms for it.
Even the fact we are talking about brand, whereas in business, they talk about reputation. Whether there’s a disconnect there that the language of marketing is not necessarily the language of the boardroom.
There’s a piece of research, it’s old now, 2012 from the Fournaise Group in Europe, and they’re a performance marketing agency, I think. But that research hit the headlines because it said 80% of CEOs do not trust their CMO as much as they do other members of the C-suite.
And if you dig into that statement a bit more, what they said was things like, “They’re too disconnected from the way the business works. They use terms that nobody understands, likes and page views and visits, and that sort of language.”
Vanity, yeah, exactly right. I followed that up with, I don’t know if you know Thomas Barta at all, but-
He wrote 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader. But he’s, I think very frustrated in that he would say things like “Marketers are very good at selling externally, so they should be, but they’re very bad at selling themselves internally.”
And he’ll come up with examples of CMOs walking up to board meetings, showing their strategy to an audience who knows strategy very well. And their strategy really is a plan on a page. It’s not actually a strategy, it’s a list of activities.
Yeah. And the fact is that marketing strategy should be taken straight from the business strategy. The same objectives the business has should be then reinterpreted into how are we going to deliver that with a marketing plan, shouldn’t it?
Yes, yeah. And I’m just thinking here, there was some other piece of information that I think supports that where the two biggest gaps that businesses or that CMOs see in their teams was brand management (three actually); brand management, strategic thinking, and problem-solving.
The two biggest things that they valued were brand management, problem-solving, and strategic thinking. So, yes, there is a gap in marketers. I believe there is a gap in marketer’s ability to think strategically and solve problems logically. And that’s in part due to I’d say, the trad-ification of marketing over the last 12, 15 years. And what I mean by that is-
Yeah I was going to say tradification, I like the word, but unpack that.
I’m a social media marketer, I’m a digital marketer, I’m an email marketer. They’re not a classically trained horizontally business aligned marketer. And so, what they know is a lot about a very narrow field of expertise, and then they start applying things like strategy to it, which doesn’t make sense. Because to your point, there’s only one strategy, and that’s the business strategy.
Yeah. And that is built on the business objectives which ultimately, the function of marketing exists to help with the delivery of that business objective.
It’s really interesting because I think even the advertising industry has exacerbated that problem. And one of my pet peeves is the way strategy has been attached to all the different parts of advertising and communications.
I say if you are talking to a social media strategist, I will bet you a million dollars that they’re going to be recommending social media. I’ve never met a media strategist that’s not recommending some sort of media solution.
And I think that’s the problem, is the word “strategy” has become debased, because in most cases, they’re not strategists, they’re actual planners. Their role is to take a strategy and then plan out how that strategy will be executed in any particular discipline.
And yet, maybe planning wasn’t sexy enough, and we had to give everyone a strategy title when in actual fact, they’re not developing a strategy. They’re purely (not purely, but you get the point) planning how does that strategy come to life.
I know there was another thing in HBR about 62%, 63% of CEOs were saying that for all this strategy work, most of the time, it didn’t actually fulfill and the failure was in the execution. That the strategy never actually got planned and executed to fulfill the objectives of the strategy.
And I’m wondering if the same thing’s happening here, that we’re so busy developing strategies that we’re not actually very good at planning and executing.
Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of work you pointed to an HBR article about that. So, there’s a good body of work, exploring why that gap exists. I think in respect to marketing, my point of view is that from a customer perspective, businesses know where they need to go.
They know the challenge by and large. They know the drivers internally and externally that create the conditions for change. And I would say they’re basically a more empowered mobile customer, ubiquitous technology in our environment, which disrupts and reshapes everything that we can think of pretty much, and heightened levels of uncertainty, whether it’s political or economical or social.
And so, as an organization, they know, okay, here are the things I’m dealing with. I think they are ubiquitous globally. How do I respond to that? And I think the general response is, I need to become more adaptive or agile, whatever word you want to put there. And I need to become more customer-centric, experience-focused. Whatever customer word you want to put in there.
So, strategically, it’s an easy solve. Executionally, if you look at, say, marketing functions, I think it’d be very unfair to say that marketing don’t execute well. If anything, marketing have foregone the opportunity to contribute strategically in favor of execution, especially digital execution. So, very good on executing.
But the [proper one]? is that we are running very hard in one direction, and we’ve been trimmed down to an inch of our life people-wise, budget-wise, and that flows onto the agencies as well, to do that job as best we can but in that direction.
And when the business changes direction, if you’re a CMO, there’s very few people in your marketing organization that I think you can look to and in your agency environment that you can look to that says, “Who’s going to help me reconfigure what we need to look like now in order to be good at this new thing?”
And I think that’s an operational gap at the functional level. So, your strategy to the execution gap, I think is an operations question in the marketing space. And I use marketing in a broad sense; marketing, digital, product, maybe even sales. But in that space, the operating environment needs to change. You just can’t tell a football team to become a soccer team without changing something fundamentally.
It’s interesting what you’re saying makes me reflect on the fact that the number of times we’ve seen the CMO role get redefined as the Chief Customer Officer. That somehow to move it beyond marketing to a focus on what’s the customer’s interaction. And yet, with the change of title, often there’s not the same change in the breadth of responsibility or authority.
And a prime example of that was a client we were working with, and the areas that they had no control over was digital. So, all the owned media on the website was beyond their remit. The call center, both inbound and outbound, a huge area of customer interaction and possible dissatisfaction.
When we really looked at it for this particular financial services client, they had Chief Customer Officer and still only had the two levers of really paid media and some comms. There was a total misalignment of what the title suggested, and what was actually available to them.
I would say that is because we own a period of great experimentation. To build on what I mentioned earlier, organizations (if I was to be a generalist in my observation) are trying to reconfigure themselves and learn how to be great at being adaptive and being more customer-focused. There’s a shift, I think from how we are viewing success.
And that’s a shift from viewing success in terms of product sales and distribution. I think that’s a fair thing to say. But the new view of success is anchored more in things like experience and utility. We just expect distribution. You can get product anywhere in the world. You can get it delivered anywhere in the world. So, that’s product distribution taken care of.
We don’t care about that anymore. What we care about is how it makes me feel, the context in which I’m going to engage with it. There new things that only the exemplars amongst us are showing us the way. So, the rest of us, the long tail of us are busy trying to reconfigure themselves around that.
And the saying that comes to my mind in respect to marketing, I think, is if I’m a CEO, I go, “You know what? Marketing’s really important. I just don’t think the marketing I’ve got is it. So, I’m going to experiment, call it a Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Growth Officer, Chief Member Officer, Chief Customer Officer.” But I don’t know what that looks like.
And I’m probably dealing with other political issues. Maybe I’m friends with the call center executive or someone like that. And I don’t want to take that away from them just yet. So, then we end up with those situations like you’ve just described, a CCO without the levers of all the customer value chain.
And all the customer experience touch points. How are you going to get consistency except there is an opportunity? And it’s an opportunity that I find interesting.
You’ve heard of the 90-day plan. That when a senior executive comes into a position, they’ve got basically 90 days. The first 30 days is to understand the lay of the land, develop a perspective, first 30 days. The next 30 days is for them to then start to formalize a strategy and to then socialize it and then present it at 90 days.
It’s interesting from my perspective, when I’ve had conversations with marketers, only a handful of them are actually aware of that 90-day plan. It’s really interesting because I think it’s so valuable for any leader in a business.
But particularly, for marketers to the point that you made earlier, which is really marketing effectiveness is not just building vertical influence from marketing up to the C-suite and the board, but horizontal across all the other operational areas that you talked about earlier.
So, when I hear you say that, my mind goes to the topic of agile. Now, for marketers, I think agile has a real mixed flavor in terms of how we experience it.
But the reason why I call that out is to flesh out the disconnect that I think you’re pointing to which is that what I hear you saying is the marketing operating rhythm is somewhat disconnected from the business operating rhythm because businesses operate on a quarterly basis. Especially if you’re a public company, that drives the annual operating rhythm of that business. Even if you’re not a public company, we are broken down by quarters.
And so, if you look at and borrow some of those principles of agile, what I start to think about is how do we better connect the direction and the rhythm of the business at an annual level, or even at a three or five-year horizon level down to the daily, weekly, fortnightly, 90-day activities within marketing and the functions that marketing depends on to do their job. That’s something that I don’t think many people think about.
Now, just to change the focus here because a lot of what we’re talking about is exactly the work you’ve been doing with Markitects, isn’t it? You founded this. Where was the opportunity or what was the inspiration? Did you see a gap? Or was it really an opportunity that just presented itself?
No, I mean, for me, it’s been a smoldering fire for a long time, and I wasn’t quite sure how to describe it or put my finger on it.
It really comes back to the start of this conversation of that disconnect between my expectations when I left, uni and my experience throughout my career. This underlying disconnect of something wrong here. Is it me or you? It depends on who you spoke to and the answer you got.
But certainly, in my last client side experience, I got to work in a large, very large marketing function, very large budgets, very complicated organization from a marketing perspective, lots of brands, lots of channels, and business units.
And so, I could see really the role that digital in particular beyond Facebook and display ads was going to play in changing the role that marketing was going to have in the organization. So, yeah, that’s insight number one.
The role of marketing in the organization, I felt was changing, to what, I wasn’t quite sure. And then I wanted to get a lot deeper into that, and I ended up working for Adobe for about five years.
And that gave me a good opportunity not only to work in a very different industry, but to deep dive in an organization that I felt was putting their money where their mouth was in terms of what did they think the future marketing organization was going to look like because they were going to provide the — like Salesforce and others provide tools-
The platform, the infrastructure-
To fuel it. So, that was really interesting. But through that experience, what I found was that when you make an investment in things like a marketing or a technology platform. You really, whether you realize it or not, you’re triggering an opportunity to drive transformation.
Because Adobe isn’t building products for yesterday, they’re building them for tomorrow. And so, inevitably this thing that you buy and implement exposes legacy on behalf of the client.
Yeah, there’s some tech legacy and stuff, but I’m talking more about operating legacy. People, process, reputation, perception in the organization to do the things that this investment allows you to now do. So, I could see that, but as a vendor, couldn’t really do anything about it.
So, The Markitects if I combine that insight with my previous experience and those observations — Markitects is really a vehicle for me to expose that and work with clients to try and resolve those gaps and reposition marketing closer to what, I guess, what you could say is the business bottom line. And that’s really through two doors.
That first door that we’ve been talking about, which is does marketing deliver what the business needs from marketing and how do we define that? And are we set up to do those things? And the second is more, I guess, pragmatic. I’ve bought a bunch of stuff, how do we make sure that we can actually deliver on what we’ve promised?
Yeah, it’s interesting that second one is one that way often lands with us. Marketers will come to us and go, “Well, we’ve got this platform (whatever it is), we’re trying to come to terms with how we’re going to use it. We don’t even know where to begin with our agencies and how they will then interface into that.”
Which is always an interesting project because to your point, every organization has legacy: legacy processes, legacy philosophies, attitudes, whatever. Then, you add in the agencies.
Now, agencies are quite adaptable, to your point. They’ll shape themselves, but they’ll still come with an attitude or a philosophy about how they want to work with the client compared to how the client wants to work with them.
The other thing I just want to pick up on Murray is we talk about marketing as if it’s a single discipline. And if Mark Ritson was here, he’d tell us, “Well, there’s a marketing process that’s tried and tested over decades.”
But in actual fact, marketing does exist very differently. Your experience, your career has been a lot in financial services and tech, where the marketing is direct with the customer. There’s that very close interface.
But then, we’ve got consumer packaged goods where it’s a totally different sort of marketing approach because it’s about customers and consumers, and the two are quite different. Do you find differences as you’re working with getting the organization to really define what marketing is in the first place?
Because I could imagine there’d be some organizations where they’d say, “We’re very happy for them to be the promotions department.” And then, others where there’d be an expectation that they would be involved in sales and promotions and product and pricing and all those, what’s the other Ps of marketing? Is that a great variation that you see?
Yeah, absolutely. And in a lot of my engagements, I do need to touch on that, and even defining customer and language. And I think it goes back, and I mentioned this earlier. When Peter Drucker said what he said, there weren’t marketing departments.
Marketing departments, I think is a 1980s thing that’s evolved from there. You might’ve had the Advertising Manager prior to that.
Yeah, yeah. True.
But when he said what he said, the purpose of business, I think he meant that as marketing as a verb, it’s a thing we do, not a noun.
To market. If you’re not in business to sell something or to provide value to someone, what are you? And I think that’s the challenge for marketers in that we exist both as a verb, which is the role of the business.
So, everyone’s a marketer, which is probably why the CEO has an opinion about your ad. But it’s also a noun in that it’s a function, it’s a department. This shift to customer experience, which is very much a horizontal, rather than vertical relationship with an organization breaks barriers across functions, whether the business likes it or not.
And that’s the challenge that we face ourselves in, which is if we want to become more customer-centric, experience-focused, things like that, then what is marketing’s role in that? How do you split the function of marketing from digital or from call center? And that’s why we’re experimenting with customer officer. That’s really an effort in breaking down silos. So, yes.
When I speak to clients about marketing, I’m at pains to get on the same page about the verb of marketing versus the noun, and what reasonably can we wrap up or wrap our arms around in our engagement and call it marketing.
Yeah, I just find it interesting. And I think we’ve touched on sales, the role of sales in marketing, because there’s often quite a lot of tension in there, especially in B2B marketing.
That often in an organization, sales will lead the customer relationship and marketing is a support, whereas other organizations, as they move more to e-commerce — and technology such as Adobe allows marketing to actually build those and manage those relationships, which impinges on the traditional role of sales of building the relationship.
It sets up quite an interesting tension for organizations, particularly if they’re locked into their traditional sort of roles and responsibilities there.
There’s no doubt, I think for a long time, especially marketing vis-a-vis digital that if I put my marketer’s hat on, my traditional marketing hat, that digital was something that happened over there. And I might need to apportion part of my budget to it, but that’s as far as I thought about it. That’s changing a lot.
Now, structure still might get in the way of that. And so, you find people in digital sales or e-commerce or whatever you want to call it, and people in marketing working around the organizational structure to deliver on that customer experience. At what point in the customer’s journey on the website do you hand over from marketing to sales or marketing to digital?
On the funnel.
I mean, it’s just not practical. They are two sides of the same coin.
I remember someone sharing with me their perspective on the roles of each. They said, “The role of marketing is to maximize margin. The role of sales is to maximize volume.” And if you think of it as two parts, two sides of a coin, if both are doing their job well, you can get volume at high margin.
I think the danger we often see where marketing is taking on the role of sales is that they start sacrificing margin to get volume. And that’s where we get these short-term tactical, price reduction added value that compromises the overall profitability, which Drucker was talking about. You need both of those to be profitable.
I wonder whether the decision to go price-led, which is a margin play, is something that the marketer drives or it’s been driven very loudly by the product team. It’s probably the latter.
Just get it out the door.
Yes, correct. Yeah.
Yeah. Murray, it’s been a great conversation. Time’s just absolutely got away from us, but really appreciate you making time and coming in, chatting about that gap. Is it a gap or a misalignment?
It’s probably a misalignment.
Yeah, between business and marketing, and I value your perspective. Thank you.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
A question before you go, and that is when you see companies struggling with marketing, is there any attribute about those that you can sort of spot a mile away?