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Brand Purpose Creative Works Brand Strategy

If you want marketing to work, stop half-assing it

By Jenny Sagstrom, Founder and Chief Executive Officer



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June 13, 2024 | 8 min read

Marketing is only in the doldrums because people put it there, says Jenny Sagstrom of Sköna. Give your CMO the space to build a dream team and you’ll soon reap the rewards.

A number of red and green apples side by side

Give your marketing team the time and resources it needs to do a great job / James Yarema via Unsplash

It feels like everyone has a theory these days on what to do about “the problem” of marketing. Some argue the chief marketing officer (CMO) role can be shaped to fit business needs – ranging from a centralized position to a fractional hire, others think the answer is to split the role in two and hire a chief brand officer (CBO). Meanwhile, several massive brands have dissolved the CMO role altogether and opted instead to distribute its responsibilities across the C-Suite.

Why are we all acting like marketing is broken? The reality is: we know brand marketing works when it’s done well. The data says as much. According to McKinsey’s research, “CEOs who place marketing at the core of their growth strategy are twice as likely to have greater than five percent annual growth compared with their peers.” A recent report demonstrated that brands predicting higher growth for this year were 4.6 times more likely to have increased their marketing spend and six times more likely to prioritize creativity.

If you want marketing to be successful, stop half-assing it. Here’s how.

The golden rules of great marketing

Firstly, set realistic timelines for marketing ROI. Would you expect your chief operating officer (COO) to turn the organization and processing systems around in a quarter? Probably not. So why are the expectations of the marketing leader so much harsher? I’d argue that it comes down to a fundamental lack of marketing understanding: only 4% of Fortune 250 CEOs have previously held a CMO role.

With limited marketing experience among executive leadership, CMOs are often beholden to short-term lead-generation campaigns due to their easier-to-measure return on investment (ROI). However as pointed out in a study by WARC and System1, this measures a campaign’s efficiency more than its overall effectiveness.

The study goes on to highlight that marketing ROI grows exponentially when brands consistently invest in good creative over the long term. This is illustrated in a case study of Aldi’s Christmas ads featuring Kevin, a talking carrot. Since his 2016 debut, he’s garnered an average profit ROI of 2.6:1 each year. But, more importantly, Aldi’s supermarket share has grown 50% in the UK in that time.

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For B2B marketers in particular, having a long-term perspective is crucial – 95% of B2B buyers are not currently in-market for whatever you’re selling, so being held to short-term lead-generation metrics, even if they prove successful, eventually leads to an empty funnel.

Secondly, give marketing KPIs they can control. Marketing departments are often given KPIs related to sales and revenue growth – another unfortunate consequence of the lack of marketing proficiency among CEOs and chief financial officers (CFOs). While sales numbers are marketing adjacent, sales and revenue are not under the direct purview of marketing. If sales aren’t increasing, CEOs would do well to speak to their sales or product teams – before pointing the finger at marketing.

More realistic marketing KPIs would reflect growth in share of search metrics. These more clearly measure whether overall marketing efforts have been effective. A similar metric could be related to growth across quarterly brand-lift studies. Though often referred to as “vanity metrics,” website analytics related to brand engagement or brand mentions across social media shouldn’t be written off, as they do help tell the overall story of brand health. Finally, don’t overlook brand building’s influence on talent acquisition – collecting stats on how brand marketing leads to direct hires could also be a fair metric.

Thirdly, equip the CMO with the resources needed to do their job. The breadth of CMO responsibilities has grown far wider than any single individual can manage. They have to have in-depth knowledge of business strategy, product features, and customer pain points. All the while they’re expected to build a brand, manage campaigns, and keep up with the constantly evolving media landscape and larger cultural trends. But I think solutions like splitting the responsibilities between a CBO and CMO or giving the CMO’s job to the chief strategy officer (CSO) are unnecessarily complicated.

The answer is simple: equip your CMO with the resources she needs to build a team of experts who will have the capacity to do it all (or hire an agency that can do it for her!).

Marketing doesn’t need remodeling

Alarmingly, this seems to be the opposite of what is happening in the industry. There was a 42% drop in global postings, and a 56% drop in postings across North America, last year for marketing positions on LinkedIn compared to 2022. Despite survey data pointing to brands increasing their marketing spend in 2024, it seems those dollars aren’t being directed toward talent acquisition. Creativity is a group sport – give your CMO room to make a dream team.

Though the industry has far more bells and whistles now than it did 20 years ago, it doesn’t need radical remodeling. If you give CMOs the tools and timelines they need – and measure their success fairly – marketing can thrive.

Brand Purpose Creative Works Brand Strategy

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Sköna is a B2B creative agency specializing in marketing, branding, and design for innovative tech companies. Founded in Silicon Valley in 2003 and with offices...

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