12 May Strategy and Marketing
Last week, I stumbled upon two articles that stuck in the back of my mind. Both authors, Roger Martin and Kim Whitler, seem to asking the same question – why is marketing relegated to a secondary / support role at so many organizations when it is of strategic importance?
Roger Martin’s article begins by providing an excellent summary of how of marketing and strategy emerged as disciplines in business and academia and goes on to discuss how their purpose continues grow closer, especially over the last 40 years or so. He notes that when asked, few executives think that marketing and strategy have considerable overlap. However, when they talk about strategy, the content is often marketing related. This was most recognizable with tech companies. Martin’s concern was primarily about the redundancy of effort (and potentially direction) when this overlap is not formally recognized within the corporate structure.
I think much of this perspective has to do with the rise of start-up culture, entrepreneurship, and tech since the 1980s. While we could argue about all the keys to success of entrepreneurship, I think we’d likely agree that success begins with the identification of an unmet customer need – which is at the heart of the marketing discipline. Sure, it may be enabled by a new technological breakthrough, but unless someone wants to buy that novel approach to solving (or creating) a customer need, there’s no business model.
But perhaps it has more to do with how broadly one defines the marketing function. Marketing is often seen as (choose one) the advertising / promotion function, the sales function, the social media function, etc. Key indicators of the breadth of marketing definition likely include whether the marketing function has profit/loss responsibility or that the marketing area has the primary responsibility for pricing decisions. At these companies (such as CPG), marketing is likely seen closer to the Martin definition.
Then I came across this 2016 article in Forbes by Kim Whitler that has a very direct measure – whether or not a company’s board has someone with marketing experience on it. It turns out that only 2.6% of the 1500 S&P companies did. And in a separate study of board members, only a paltry 4% of directors believe that marketing experience is important to have on a board.
So why is that? Is it because board members see marketing as an easy discipline that anyone can understand and master? Or is it the antiquated, “your job is to sell what we make” mentality? Or perhaps it is because board members with marketing experience are likely to be particularly interested in questions of customer experience and future avenues for growth – questions that more internally focused disciplines might prefer to avoid because of their ambiguity. And yet, these are two fundamental dimensions to strategy, so we circle back to Roger Martin’s thesis.
Last point, the study by Whitler, Krause, and Lehnman also found that those companies that had board members with marketing experience outperformed others on shareholder return by three percentage points. This result would indicate that it is fiduciarily responsible to have a marketer on every board.
Let me know what you think either by responding here or on LinkedIn or Twitter. Thanks for reading and I hope you found these articles worth your time and thought!