Marketing to the top

Nautical Compass
Image by Just Us 3 via Flickr

A very recent study by Prof. Leeflang and Prof. Frambach showed a big difference in the perceived value of marketing’s influence on the succes of organiszations in Europe and the USA. Marketing in Europe seems to be pushed back to only one P, Promotion aka marketing communication. Product development seems to be back in the hands of R&D, Pricing with the people in sales and distribution…? In the USA and Israel marketing is still perceived as very valuable. Why the big difference between Europe and the USA? They didn’t give an explanation, at least not at the meeting I attended. I must read their book soon (it’s in Dutch).

Biggest reasons for the decline of marketing’s clout in the Euro boardrooms was the perceived lack of innovation and the poor accountability. Some say this could be the perception of boardroom members who have been steering mainly on shareholders value, trying to see everything only in terms of money and thus accountability. But is that different in Europe then in the USA?

My perception is that marketing is loosing its clout because of the lack of leadership and sound marketing vision with marketing managers. Too many marketeers see their role as supporting the organization. But I like to make the comparison with a sailboat in a regatta where the navigator stands behind the captain and tells him and his team what the preferred course of action is based on all the information he has gathered and processed. The navigator looks beyond the limits of the boat (internal organization) and focuses on the ever changing environment. Changes in current, wind speed and direction (the customers), competitor’s moves, etc. Most of the attention is on the external environment, but all in relation to the strengths and weaknesses of the own boat. Of course he needs to get information from all team members whenever they have better information. And team members (for instance sales) should see the the advantage for the team effort when they supply the navigator with all the feedback.

Once the navigator gains the trust of the team, he can set the course to success. Of course everybody in the team is important for the actual results, but somebody should be coordinating the external view, eg. the customer demand. I believe strongly that this is the job for marketing. But a navigator has to earn the respect of his team. And that involves leadership. Not the behavior of a Labrador dog, trying to please all the people around him. A very common behavior of many people in marketing. Marketing shouldn’t follow, but it should have a vision. So maybe it has to do with the character of marketeers in Europe? Are they too “nice” compared to their colleagues in sales? Don’t they have the guts to set a course? Do we need (in Europe) more people in Marketing with Balls?

I once asked a good friend of mine, he is CEO of a big ($26 billion turnover) and successful company, who is responsible for marketing in his board. His answer was clear. “I am” he said. It is all about creating value for our customers and that is the essence of a good business. Now his CMO is very quantitative and focused on accountability. His navigator on his ship.

So? Is it our own fault that we in Europe see marketing too much as a supporting role instead of a course setting role? Are we too nice? Are we too lazy to earn the respect of our colleagues? Many marketeers higher up are used to “take-it-easy”. Spending big amounts of money on advertising, branding and other hard to quantify activities. But good, sound marketing is a job that needs a bit of inspiration and lots of perspiration. Especially all the newly available tools make it important to know your way around numbers. Not just around communicating.

I call on all marketeers to stick out their necks and regain the ground they have lost. To earn respect, increase accountability and be innovative. To set the course for their organizations. Knowing what value to create for their customers, deciding on a price they want to pay for it, delivering it in the most convenient way and making sure the people know about it and want it. If they do a good job in that, they will earn the respect of their team. But they can never reach that position without the help of their team.

A navigator can’t go anywhere without an excellent crew. But a boat that goes at maximum speed at all times but doesn’t know where to go will have a hard time beating the competition.

Gert-Jan Scheers (navigator)


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