The value of marketing is at risk. Here’s how we get it back
Right now in advertising it’s all Super Bowl all the time. But marketers are focusing on the wrong Big Game. The annual spectacle of high-ticket ads exemplifies — and hides — a crisis that’s debilitating the marketing profession. In creating a celebrity culture around advertising over the past three decades, we have lost marketing.
As a result, marketing has lost its value in the power centers of business. Typically, the corporate inner circle of chief executive officer, chief operations officer, and chief financial officer excludes the chief marketing officer. Three of the 4Ps, the essential levers to marketing success, have been taken over by other players. Operations grabbed product and put it under innovation, and took in-store, or place. Sales grabbed pricing.
Worse, the chief financial officer treats the ad budget like a piggy bank to cover quarterly shortfalls. It’s akin to having a plane, calculating the weight that it's going to take to get to your destination, being a little too heavy, and pouring the fuel out to get to your weight. All you've done is ensure you're not going to get to your numbers.
That’s a prescription for business volatility for clients and agencies alike. And we’re all living it. But we wouldn’t be if marketing fully fueled the engine of the business and earned a voice in the inner circle.
Part of the problem is language. While the inner circle speaks economics, chief marketers speak branding. And all of us in marketing follow.
The light went on for me when I was failing to persuade the chief executive of a national retailer to back a digital advertising program by stressing how many people he could reach, and fast. But when I told him that he could reduce his dependence on more expensive media, get more customers for less, and find new customers who’d spend more in his stores, he got excited and backed the play.
Another problem is that agencies have become campaign machines. We lead with creative to be considered relevant and push the boundaries of expression to be considered hot — that’s the culture of advertising. We keep looking to the next three or six months for a brand, missing the architecture and trajectory of the entire business.
Instead, agencies need to take the lead in restoring the full value of marketing. We can start by extending the meaning that clients’ products bring to people’s lives — the essence of discovery guiding advertising — to a vision of how the business expands overall. To look beyond the brand in this way credibly, we need to diversify our talent. Specifically, hire specialists in product development, pricing, trade marketing, and in-store promotion, and team them with the experts we have in creative and communications.
Then agencies must get all our people to work in the business, not just on the business. Everyone needs to experience firsthand what the product or service means to actual customers on an everyday basis. That means creative directors going on service calls, strategy directors working in-store with retailers on pricing, and media directors working in call centers to learn viscerally where customers come from. It means sales, operations, and manufacturing people coming to the agency. Not periodically, but continuously.
Agencies grounded in the full experience of the business can help chief marketing officers corral data across the enterprise. Not just to clarify the advertising journey — which is what happens today — but also to support a comprehensive approach to advancing the business in provable ways.
Agencies need to do all this because their chief marketer clients can’t on their own. You can rename the chief marketing officer a chief growth officer, but he or she still must pry the power back. That takes a believable vision and undeniable results, which demand broader, deeper, more continuous support from agencies.
Together we can engineer profound business transformation. Our mutual survival and the value of marketing altogether depend on it.
Jose Lozano is chief executive officer of 9thWonder