In the first of a four part series, Brian Jacobs, co-founder of Crater Lake & Co, explores the implications around the evolution of marketing, and how marketing leaders can best manage the many challenges facing them today.

The executive search firm, Spencer Stuart’s annual survey into executives’ tenure, as reported in The Wall Street Journal of May 5th has the average time in post of a Chief Marketing Officer at 40 months.

This has not changed year-on-year although Spencer Stuart report it is still the shortest period for more than a decade. It is also less than half the tenure of a CEO, which averages out at 85 months.

Why might this be? Certainly, the role of marketing has evolved dramatically over time, with the result that a CMO today is expected to combine an appreciation of creativity with an understanding of the many technologies used by consumers.

As Spencer Stuart’s Greg Welch says in the WSJ piece: “It takes a real orchestra leader.”

In this piece, and the following companion pieces we aim to explore the implications around the evolution of marketing, and how marketing leaders can best manage the many challenges facing them today.

The dictionary definition of marketing is: “The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” But what exactly does that, should that action deliver?

When I started in the business there was still a debate around the differences between marketing and selling. There was a sense, certainly in some sectors that the only difference was the job title on the business card. Salespeople sold; marketers sold too but with a fancier title.

This was never the case, or at least the intention: marketers worked out what was wanted; salespeople sold what they had to sell.

But whatever the intention, to many it was all about sales – how many did we sell, and for how much? Everything else was peripheral fluff.

Even today, fifty years later (and counting) the very real skill of ‘marketing’ is characterised by the many people in business who are still wondering what it actually is; what does it do?

We may not like to admit it, but in far too many boardrooms marketing is seen as something unaccountable, more concerned with the spending of money as opposed to being a driver of future business growth.

Sadly, there is a gap between how the typical CEO sees the role of marketing; and how the marketing professional perceives things.

‘Marketing’ in some CEOs’ view delivers soft benefits not hard cash. Yes, new products, advertising campaigns, sponsorships, DM/EDM, content creation etc are ‘useful’ but the real responsibility for growth, profits and shareholder dividends are often perceived to lie in the hands of the others.

If you believe in the power of marketing to build brands and businesses, it is easy to dismiss these views as ignorant, but the reality is that ignorant or not they still exist – widely.

Marketing is seen as disposable; a nice-to-have in the eyes of far too many.

If there’s any doubting this, look at the UK Government’s recent assertion that in a cost-of-living crisis manufacturers should cut the cost to the consumer by redirecting marketing funds into price cuts.

Rather than dismissing these views as ill-informed, it would be more effective to reframe the whole skillset embodied inside the Marketing Department within the broader business context.

Once marketing is understood to be business focussed and accountable, using business metrics, executives outside the discipline will better understand that money spent on marketing is an investment not a cost. At this point the whole industry will move forward.

To re-frame the role of marketing – not only what it does but what it can do, we all need to consider not only how to demonstrate its effectiveness but also how it is talked about.

We need less ‘jargon’ and more confidence

Language, both its semantics and its syntax is a powerful way of creating new perceptions and judgements. If marketing does contribute to business growth, it is important that we recognise that in the words we use. We need to use less marketing ‘jargon’ and talk more of financial contribution.

To do this, we must think about both the metrics and the clarity of the narrative. We need to ensure that the contribution of marketing is understood by non-marketing professionals. We should stop being a linguistic clique and make the discipline more accessible to those who use a different vocabulary.

We are all guilty of over-complication in how we communicate. It’s an understandable trait: ‘You need me to explain this stuff; it’s very complicated.’

We feel our value to the organisations for whom we work is enhanced by being the only people with the expertise to master the complexity. To put it the other way around, we often think that our value is somehow diminished if the non-expert understands. Understanding, we fear, is one step towards doing it yourself, which means you don’t need me to do it for you.

This lack of confidence is underpinned by the shortness of tenure in the role.

Marketing will become indispensable, not by being obtuse but by demonstrating the value it brings to the business. To the CEO, the CFO, and the Board, that value is best measured in financial terms and not in the number of jargon words used.

When four of us, all from different marketing service disciplines came together to form a collective called Crater Lake & Company we were driven by a common desire to demonstrate the contribution that marketing makes to a business’ success.

Whether you view the process through a media planning and buying lens, or from the standpoint of a market research agency; from the view of a creative agency or an analytics business dealing in huge quantities of data, we are all painfully aware of the same missing piece of the jigsaw – what does what we do add to our clients’ success?

Further, how might we communicate that contribution to every stakeholder, so that everyone understands the tasks to be fulfilled and the benefits that will result.

A ‘Clear Performance Narrative’ can help break marketing silos

We came to the conclusion that the way forward is to create a story by bringing siloed information together.

We call this a ‘Clear Performance Narrative,’ or CPN. It can be expressed in words, pictures, or both. It distils inputs, achievements and failures in a way that can be understood by all, experts and non-experts alike.

Silos are the enemy of the development of a CPN - for all businesses. They get in the way; they obfuscate and confuse. They separate and divide when what we need is to come together behind a common set of tasks.

For instance, what sense is there in excluding consumer market research insights from a market mix model? Surely consumer trends and consumer attitudes are an important variable in understanding whether a brand succeeds or fails? Yet this rarely if ever happens.

Market research and market mix modelling are in their own silos.

Shouldn’t a media agency be fully aware of the impact of the plans on the brand’s financial success? Shouldn’t a creative agency be exposed to what impact their work is having not only on those being exposed to it but also to those judging success or failure in the Boardroom?

There are plenty of smart people in marketing and agencies but if they are not made aware of something happening in a neighbouring silo, they cannot do much with it.

We know full well that there are great exceptions, where all disciplines come together to create beautiful music, but we also know that far too often every member of the orchestra is busy following different sheet music. They may all be playing beautifully but the overall effect is cacophonous.

Focus on meaningful metrics, that can be validated

The most recent addition to the cacophony is online or performance marketing.

We’ve all come across examples where the performance marketing team is playing its own tune with sheet-music supplied by those from whom they’re buying.

They are delivered metrics that sound impressive (‘look how many people say they like us...’), that may look impressive (‘look how many noughts there are...’) but which bear little or no relation to business success.

They also ignore certain realities. Kantar Media’s Dimension studies explore how consumers perceive advertising on different channels, and how they use those channels.

The latest Dimension work took place pre-pandemic in 2020, across eight of the largest ad markets. The full report is available from Kantar but in short, online advertising is seen as intrusive and disliked when compared with other media forms.

This may or may not matter, but surely it should be considered?

As should other indicators. Kantar Media’s data, supported by other sources like Statista show the extent of adblocking – with measurement techniques varying this seems to be between 35% and 45% of online users.

Why would you block something that you consider to be of value?

Then there’s ad fraud estimated by the ANA as being between US$60bn and US$120bn.

What’s US$60bn between friends? Whether it is 60 or 120 we can all agree it’s a big number.

Any marketer confronted by these data points would incorporate them into his or her thinking – and yet online ad revenues continue to grow.

Might this be related to the silo issue – with some performance marketing teams reporting in to finance and not marketing and using incomplete data?

How many times does the advertiser assess performance marketing achievements within the context of brand-building activity, or indeed vice-versa?

We fear the answer is rarely. Why? Often, it’s down to organisational matters, to internal politics, to silos.

Marketing is a team sport, runs the cliché. But like most clichés there is more than a grain of truth in there. Advertising that appears in multiple places carrying a consistent message over time will work a great deal better than a campaign inconsistent in its messaging and its management from channel to channel.

This focus on numbers that really don’t matter much is not by any means limited to online activities.

Take tracking studies. What are they for other than to fuel a dashboard that gets presented at a quarterly Board meeting? This may be over-harsh, but trackers so often perpetuate the status quo. The questions cannot be changed because of a fear that continuity will be lost.

Why are we asking those immutable questions in the first place? Far too often no-one can remember, no-one wants to open that particular can of worms and so best to keep on keeping on.

In this series of articles prepared by the Co-Founders of Crater Lake in conjunction with WARC we attempt to build on these issues, and provide practical advice on how to overcome them.

The second article in this series tackles how we might assess the true business contribution made by online performance marketing activities, given that the sheer number of non-human interactions (bots in other words) with our ads is so huge? And how can we arrive at the best combination of communication activities to improve profits?

The third article explores how leading marketers assess the future of marketing. Are they confident in their discipline’s ability to grasp the opportunities and drive their business’ understanding and appreciation of what they do to bring success? What do they feel needs to change?

And the fourth and final piece looks at what the best strategic thinkers make of tracking studies. Have they passed their sell-by date? Could the many millions spent on them be put to better use in generating insights that drive the business ahead?

We believe that the opportunities for marketers have never been greater; we all need to evolve to make the most of them.