Explaining the value of marketing to your C-suite

Written by: Paula Ferrai

Generally, marketing departments the world over have always been expected to justify their worth more than any other department. Despite recent strong movements towards a better understanding of marketing’s place within the wider business landscape, many stakeholders and C-suite executives still struggle to fully buy-in to marketing’s ‘worth’. 

This is evident in the fact that traditionally, marketing budgets are the first to get cut during a company’s down period, despite the evidence of why this is a bad idea. The reason for this is partly due to the C-suite mindset that marketing budgets are non-essential, or at the very least should be seen as inferior compared to essential business costs. Unfortunately, this is a problem almost all CMOs face: how to justify the overall impact marketing has on the success of a business, and how to be viewed as any other major business department. 

Marketing the marketer

CMOs have to market their department’s worth — including their own — to their own executives. Imagine a CFO having to constantly hustle for more growth opportunities to stakeholders while simultaneously keeping on track with financial duties. What a mess! But this is something most CMOs and marketers know comes with the territory. In the true spirit of spin marketing, many CMOs see this constant need to perform as a motivating factor to excel at all costs.

So, marketers essentially have to continuously market and promote their business worth to their stakeholders before they can even begin their job of finding creative ways to market the business. It seems rather counter-productive, don’t you think? This means that a good CMO is nevernot-marketing

Having an always-on/never-not-marketing CMO at the helm who knows precisely what it takes to be noticed, both internally and externally, is crucial in closing the understanding divide between marketing and C-suite. Too often, the problem for the disconnect is caused by one major issue that has two possible reasons for being so: either C-suite execs fail to understand what marketing departments do (and thus do not see it as an essential business item), or CMOs struggle to explain the impact marketing can have on the business. 

The true value of a CMO

Today’s CMOs play a critical role in an organisation as their primary objective is to achieve sustainable, profitable business growth by devising meaningful strategies leveraged by analytical insights and knowledge. CMO’s make it their business to get close to customers to identify their needs and pain points to add value to their lives. By having unique insights into their audience, CMOs can direct product and service teams on how to meet the customers’ needs by what they offer. 

According to Marie Gulin-Merle, global vice president of ads marketing at Google, great CMOs “spend much of their time working with teams to run the business, solve problems, and support short- and long-term growth opportunities that can net immediate wins and set the company up for future success.”

Crucially, CMOs are the bastions of crusading the company’s mission and purpose which they leverage into their strategies to ensure targeted business growth and sustainability. It is the role of the CMO to ensure all business strategies and objectives align with the company’s vision for the future. This helps businesses stay on track with their goals in the mid-to-long term and ultimately helps with major business decisions.

Yet despite the clear value CMOs bring to the table, many C-suites still have trouble seeing the value of marketing. 

So how can CMOs combat this mindset?

The Unifier CMO

Source: McKinsey & Company

To rid the business landscape of the continuous and rather outdated justification of marketing departments calls for strong CMOs who make it a priority to align themselves with the C-suite’s strategic mindset, and vice versa. This symbiotic relationship can yield a plethora of business opportunities when CEOs and CFOs, in particular, are fully on board with the CMO’s vision — one that speaks to marketing’s impact on wider business goals and objectives. We call this archetype the Unifier CMO.

According to McKinsey, the CMO’s rapport with the C-suite is crucial in establishing marketing’s role as a growth driver. The Unifier CMO also understands that all major departments within an organisation (from finance to HR and everything in between) need to buy-in to the idea that they too play a crucial role in marketing their organisation. When the efforts are viewed as collaborative and symbiotic, the more rapid the adoption across entire enterprises. Thus, the ability to drive business growth lies heavily in the strength of the partnerships a CMO can create across the organisation. This is what makes a Unifier CMO.

The Unifier CMO’s playbook

What sets Unifier CMO’s apart is that they pivot from the traditional approach that opts to justify marketing initiatives by explaining the mechanics to instead showing how marketing impacts business holistically. This is presented as a future-focussed strategy to build sustainable growth that aligns to business objectives, essentially adopting a CEO’s mindset.

CMO’s need to view the C-suite as peers who have a mutually accountable objective to achieve the same business outcomes that each has a role to play. McKinsey states that high-growth companies are 7 times more likely to have a Unifier CMO who develops robust, collaborative partnerships across the entire C-suite. Most C-suites have little to no marketing background which is yet another obstacle for CMOs to overcome as crucial buy-in becomes more cumbersome to achieve. So how do CMO’s get buy-in from the C-suite?

According to Cassidy Shield, VP of Marketing at Narrative Science, Unifier CMOs make it their mission to intrinsically understand the strategic goals of the CEO, in particular, and the business as a whole. This is to ensure complete alignment of objectives in order to devise creative ways to enable marketing to be a driver to deliver on these goals. As with all C-suites, CMOs need to be able to articulate and present marketing strategies that their CEO can immediately understand and believe, and why this strategy is better than others. 

However, most CEOs have neither the time nor the inclination to sit through long, gimmick-heavy marketing pitches simply because this is not their language. It is therefore key to rather present strategies in ways that speak directly to the interests pertaining to the CEO of the business: they will include detailed, step-by-step plans on how they plan to execute strategies in terms of timing, spend, resources, and above all, ROI. The result?

Marketing takes its rightful place within organisations

Being able to think like a CFO is an additional feather in the Unifier CMO’s bow. We all know that every CMO’s arch-nemesis is a CFO as they literally hold the purse strings for marketing initiatives to either come to fruition or forever remain as an idea on a slide deck. And during down periods, CFOs tend to place marketing in their budget-cutting crosshairs as they often do not view marketing as a business value provider. By establishing a dynamic relationship with CFOs, CMOs are able to lay the groundwork to establish marketing as a driver of value. How?

According to McKinsey, Unifier CMOs use advanced analytics to help quantify the impact that marketing spend has on short- and long-term value. They build business cases with metrics that reflect the meaningful financial value that include ROI, customer lifetime value, revenue run rate, etc. Again, CMO’s need to speak the language of the C-suite, and in this case, they need to be fluent in the language of business finance to make any meaningful impact.

And regarding how CMO’s leverage data analytics to paint a picture for their strategies, they need to form the same relationship with their CTO. By being on the same page as the CTO, CMOs are able to gain access to a litany of data and analytics that can drive strategies and objectives.

Summary

The primary objective of the Unifier CMO is to be able to do their job unencumbered. This means they need to establish peer-like relationships with their C-suite to establish the mindset that marketing is just as meaningful and important to the business as any other department. In order to get complete buy-in from the C-suite, marketers need to market themselves and their department’s ability to drive business growth through various means. By proving why marketing is important through its overall business impact, CMO’s are able to help CEOs and C-suite execs understand that without their buy-in, the lack of support can jeopardise their entire business.

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Last modified: July 12, 2021
Author info
Paula Ferrai
Paula leads our Marketing & Communications team. Her career started 20 years ago in advertising, and she’s since picked up a wealth of experience both in the corporate and agency worlds. She loves scuba-diving and dreams of swimming with dolphins again.
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