Do Marketers Have Any Credibility?

Michael Brenner on Jul 21, 2011 in Marketing Strategy

In a recent survey, almost three-quarters of CEOs think marketers lack credibility. And according to the report, we’re not helping ourselves either.

Now before I detail the survey findings, let me say that I agree that quantifying results is a challenge for the majority of marketers. And I think it needs to be solved with a two-tiered approach.

First, I think we need to quantify every marketing effort and use our knowledge, courage and leadership to tie all of our efforts to business outcomes in the form of new demand, higher sales and more profitable customers in both the long and short-term.

Second, I believe marketers need to own the customer experience. This will help marketing to gain a seat at the leadership table by creating a positive company reputation in the marketplace, by representing customer demands and through the articulation of our company’s value proposition. 

The survey conducted by the UK-based Fournaise Marketing Group surveyed more than 600 CEOs from the US, Europe, Asia and Australia in both large and small companies. The group reports that 73% of CEOs say marketers lack credibility due to an inability to translate the results of marketing campaigns into outcomes that improve business performance such as new demand, sales, customers, or market share. 

This is compounded by the study’s result that 69% of the marketers actually agree that they cannot translate the result of their marketing efforts into quantifiable business value.

Some Additional Findings of The Survey:

  • 77% of CEOs believe marketers spend too much time talking about brand value and brand equity vs. revenue, profit and growth.
  • 74% of CEOs believe marketers are too focused on the latest trends such as social media and are unable to show how these will generate more business for the company.
  • 72% of CEOs believe that marketers often request additional budget but cannot tie that increase to additional revenue or profit.
  • 70% believe marketers use lots of data to support their campaigns – none of which relate to the P&L.
  • And 67% believe marketers don’t think enough like business people by focusing too much on the “arty” or “fluffy” creative side of marketing.

I agree with Jerome Fontaine, the CEO of Fournaise, in his assessment:

“Until Marketers start speaking the P&L language of their CEOs and stakeholders, and until they start tracking the business effectiveness of all their strategies and campaigns to prove they generate incremental customer demand, they will continue to lack credibility in the eyes of their CEOs and will continue to be seen more as a cost centre than an asset.”

I had a friendly Twitter exchange on this topic yesterday with Philippe Winthrop (@biz_mobility) where we accepted that there are some marketing activities that are hard to quantify in the short-term. We agreed that marketing needs to work harder to quantify the results of these efforts into hard P&L numbers, even if the results are more long-term or hard to gather.

Mike Gospe (@mikegospe) explains in his blog and new book about why Marketing should take the “high ground” (and a seat at the leadership table) in this debate by becoming an advocate for our customers:

The marketing high ground represents a special place where you know the market so well, so deeply, that you become the customers’ advocate. With this knowledge comes confidence in gathering and interpreting market data so that the best product, service, and go-to-market decisions can always be made.

Mike goes on to say that Marketing needs to drive this approach across an aligned workforce and then it will earn and even command a seat at the leadership table. (Sounds great to me!)

So how do we solve the challenge that CEOs think marketers lack credibility? For me the answer is:

  1. We need to act (more) like business people and find a way to quantify every single marketing dollar, resource and effort. We need to stop focusing on marketing activities and focus on business results that include new sales, higher profits, more customers or greater market share.
  2. We need to own the voice of the customer and drive these insights across the entire organization.

What do you think? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook.

And please Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog to receive future posts via email.

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 15 comments
  • Eric Wittlake

    Yes, marketing lacks credibility, and not just with CEOs (have you ever paused as you introduced yourself as a marketer?). Yet some very successful companies are driven by marketing.

    What seems to set these companies apart is investments made in becoming better marketers, both in measurement and in creating marketing opportunities.

    Consider soap operas, decades before marketers becoming media companies was a standard marketing topic. Or the early investments made in media mix modeling in the same category.

    Today, most marketers are not making similar investments to make marketing a better business within the business they support. And with it, they are losing credibility.

    It is a great post, and it makes me sad to say it. Thanks for sharing.

    — @wittlake

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Eric,

      There’s a lot of treading water out there unfortunately. I like your point about investing in becoming better marketers. I shared this study because I agree with the findings as well but believe we can turn it around if we focus on metrics, customer experiences but also to your point in creating the focus around the skill set of being able to relate to CEOs and speak like a business person.


  • kenny

    Marketing tends to have even less credibility with Buyers.

    Marketing is a triangle funnel and buyers are a circle. To Eric’s point companies that make investments in becoming better marketers both in measurement and in creating marketing opportunities will win. I work with 1.6 Million business tech buyers every day and the ironic thing is. They will actually HELP the IT vendor sell and market to them. Unfortunately, the IT vendor has to do it on their terms and not the other way around.

    A great post and i have to agree unfortunately.

  • Brenda Stoltz

    Another great post, Michael. This is a topic I’ve noticed and been interested in for awhile. An oldie but goodie on the topic (and a bit academic) is Marketing As Strategy: Understanding the CEO’s Agenda for Driving Growth and Innovation by Nirmalya Kumar.

    I think there is an attitude about marketers that is similar to Congress, people dislike them, they have a low approval rating, but how do you get rid of them?? 🙂

    • Michael Brenner

      Ha. Now if we can figure that out, we would be famous (and maybe rich). But you are right, “Marketing as Strategy” is close to the point I was making about owning the customer and representing their needs to the business – the goal of any enterprise.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Adele Revella

    Hi Michael:

    I can’t remember if we met years ago when I was teaching the Integrated Marketing Strategies workshop at SAP (2004 – 2008).

    You’re so incredibly right about the problem, and the opportunity, for marketers to get strategic.

    I’m optimistic that we can solve this problem (albeit gradually) by giving marketers new tools and skills to discover real insights about how their prospective buyers make decisions . . . and then show them how to leverage those insights to make better choices about everything from segmentation to messaging and marketing mix.

    My understanding of the problem has evolved significantly since I was working with the SAP product marketers. I’ve had the chance to see these ideas implemented in other large companies, and developed an entirely new curriculum based on my findings.

    I’ve also published an ebook explaining my proposal — The Buyer Persona Manifesto — available for free on my website. I’d love to hear your feedback.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Adele,

      I don’t think I had the pleasure of taking your course but wish I had.

      Thanks for your support of my argument. It sounds like you have some pretty detailed views on this whole subject based on your incredible experience. I promise to check it out and wlecome all of my readers to do the same.

      Best, Michael

  • Susan Oakes

    Hi Michael,

    I came over from a link on Twitter. I have one question for you and that is of the companies that were surveyed did the marketers have responsibility for the P & L? The reason for the question is and I can only speak of my past experience as a marketer in the corporate world if you have the responsibility then every decision you make ties back to the financials and you are held accountable. This is common practice in consumer companies and marketing is seen as a business discipline affecting all areas of the business. I actually can’t see how a marketer can set objectives,select strategies and choose tactics if they are not tied to financial objectives.

    If they are only given responsibility for the tactics and that is their only experience then I would imagine it would be difficult unless they were taught the financial side and how it all ties in.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Susan,

      You know it’s a good question that the group who ran the survey should add the next time they run it.

      And a really great point. Having had P&L responsibility as a product marketer at a former company, I can tell you that I think you are abailsutely right. Classic product marketers own the P&L and run their businesses like a CEO so they already know the language, understand how to carry that responsibility and make better decisions as a result.

      Unfortunately, many businesses do not respect marketing at such a high-level and so do not trust marketers to carry P&L responsibility. This can then lead marketing down a path toward essentially tactical order-taking for the business. And this can start a vicious cycle whereby marketers cannot seem to escape the credibility gap this survey references.

      That’s why I think marketing needs to do more than just “speak the language” of the CEO and the business but needs to claim the “high ground” of leadership and ownership of the customer.

      Thanks for adding your valuable thoughts!
      Best, Michael

  • Rob

    Isn’t part of the problem that many people confuse marketing with just advertising, pretty pictures and tradeshow giveaways? It’s an internal perception problem. And marketing needs to be the department to change that perception.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said that marketing is all about the customer experience. Marketing is about a conversation with the marketplace. If, as a marketer, you know how your intended audience uses your product, how much it likes (and more importantly, dislikes) your product, and what it wishes were in your product, you know what to say when communicating with them.

    Unfortunately, it’s sales that tends to reap the most public benefits from marketing, and in B2B especially, those benefits are far removed from the first “marketing touch.” That’s why it’s hard to talk in terms of P&L when we spend x thousands of dollars on a corporate branding campaign.

    CEO’s should know this better than most: you cannot discount the value of polish, good communication, and coherent message when talking to the market. It will translate into sales – it’s just not instantaneous.

    • Michael Brenner

      Well said Rob! I think you are correct that marketing is more about strategy and customer experience as opposed to just advertising. And I am so happy that you did not place the burden of changing that perception with anyone but us. I also believe we need to show some leadership in making this case every chance we get.


  • Jason Dea

    The final bullet you reference is interesting.

    67% believe marketers don’t think enough like business people by focusing too much on the “arty” or “fluffy” creative side of marketing.

    It’s ironic, that the job of marketing is to “speak the language of the audience” and it seems the perception is that we fail horribly at this.

    Focusing on the arty side of creative results in frogs that can say budweiser. Sadly as memorable as that might be, it’s not a message that resonates with business owners internally, nor does it really tell customers anything about what you do.

    I think being able to speak P&L and ROI internally and externally having the balls to just tell customers what it is you do, are the hallmarks of what good marketing will look like tomorrow.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Jason,

      I could not agree more. I had never heard of the firm that conducted the survey but I do thnk they did a great job with the questions and with hitting on a really important issue for marketers: figuring out what it is we really should be doing. I see so many media “ego buys” and there are lots of “speaking frogs” out there.

      But it takes balls to tell our internal customers that we’re just not gonna be order-takers any more as well. I see it every day and rare is the leader who can stand up to an internal exec and say “NO. that is not helping to move our business forward.”

      I continue to believe that accountability is going to be harder and harder for marketers to escape!

      Best, Michael

  • Alastair Sim

    Great thread (thank you all for sharing) and initial post Michael…sorry to have missed the height of the discussion. It’s an area of major interest having worked in different industries and across different functions (sales, services, marketing/strategy.

    One thought: do CEO’s get the marketing they deserve? If the Board doesn’t include marketers and hold them as equals in the business planning and execution (have them lead the strategy development given they should know the market) then how can marketing deliver against full range of capabilities of their profession?
    On the otherhand, if marketers are not acquiring the full range of skills and taking an education/develoment path for strategic marketing (points made about knowledge of the business, finance, P&L, revenue etc) then the marketing community has only itself to blame.

    As was pointed out earlier, many CEO’s have limited appreciation of the true value or impact of strategic marketing something that the marketing community itself has continued to perpetuate. It used to be advertising (probably because it was where the bulk of the (B2C) marketing mix went) that CEO’s linked marketing to. Now it appears that marketers have found a new love: social media! (although it’s not such an awesome line item investment on the books).

    Both Adele and Susan mentioned the word strategy which is an alien term to some of our marketers whereby, in my view, it should be the backbone to our actions and possibly the key to bridging the gap between the CEO and marketing. Is this not the role of the CMO?

    If I may throw out an associated question: will this debate ever be concluded so long as we have businesses driven by sales (deal driven, short term vision) and served by marketing (building loyalty/relationships with customers to maximise revenues)? In some industries this is definitely a “master(sales)-slave(marketing)” relationship. Sir Terry Leahy, outgoing CEO of Tesco (retailer) seemed to have got the formula right but there again he was their CMO before taking up the job in the big chair. Perhaps thats the secret, more CMO’s as CEO’s?

    Welcome your thoughts….

    • Michael Brenner

      Oh I agree we need more CMOs to ascend as CEOs but then in a typical chicken and egg dilemma, we need more CMOs capable of being CEOs. So round and round we go. I think in the end, we need to focus on marketing as the chief advocates for the customer and marketers as business people and all the skills required to do those 2 separate things.