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Marketing pros feel undervalued

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Two recent surveys—one by the Business Marketing Association, the other by the Chief Marketing Officer Council—indicate the marketing profession is struggling with something of an inferiority complex.

"We were trying to figure out whether people thought there was any future in this business," said Rick Kean, executive director of the Chicago-based Business Marketing Association.

In its online survey, conducted by Readex, the Chicago-based BMA presented 250 marketing professionals with a series of questions that hardly exuded confidence. The first question, for example, quoted a gloomy statement from consultant Jeff Herrington: "The whole idea of a central group being the communicators will be seen as old-fashioned. Over the next 10 to 15 years, marketing communications as a separate department will slowly fade away." The BMA then asked, "How much do you agree or disagree with this statement?"

Most (63%) of the respondents either "disagreed" or "strongly disagreed," while 24% "agreed" or "strongly agreed." For this survey question, the BMA also asked for comment from the respondents.

"I was surprised to see it come down on both sides," Kean said. "I would not have thought there would have been such a positive attitude from so many people. I thought it would be all gloom and doom and bad news."

Many of the responses, all of which were anonymous, were quite glum, as respondents saw a troubling lack of appreciation for the marcom unit in other areas of their company.

One respondent agreed that marcom was on the way out "because companies see no value in marketing communications being performed. … As marketing budgets are stretched and cut to the bone, what is acceptable output quality is being continually degraded."

Another respondent lamented, "We are looked upon as ‘spinmeisters’ rather than articulators of often fuzzy corporate visions/missions/values."

One respondent blamed ineffective marketing communications programs for distrust of the discipline. "Communicators perceiving themselves as separate from the business is why marketing has a bad name in so many organizations. Communication for communication’s sake is a waster of time and money," the respondent said.

A lot of the gloom reflected in the survey responses may be self-imposed, speculated Dave Laverty, senior VP-global marketing at Cognos, a business intelligence software company. He said that too many marketing departments are focusing on discrete, backward-facing measurement of a single direct mail program or Internet ad, while neglecting to emphasize the role that marketing as a whole can play in filling the sales pipeline.

Will marcom fade away?

Those respondents who disagreed with Herrington’s prediction did, however, agree that communications were being disseminated throughout the company and that everyone is a communicator representing the company. But they disputed that this trend meant the marcom department would fade away; instead, they said it was more important than ever.

One respondent put it this way: "I agree with Jeff that communications is a function for the whole company—because the brand of a company must be communicated at every touch point. However, the only way this works (in my 28 years of doing this) is if there is a strong and centralized communications function (corporate or marketing communications)."

Another respondent said the practicality of assessing responsibility would maintain marketing communications’ role as a centralized department "because responsibilities for marketing (or its failure) will still need to be fixed in a given entity so that if things go wrong, the right people will lose their heads."

Another question in the survey asked: "In your opinion, how important is marketing communications in business today compared to 10 years ago?" Most respondents (69%) answered either "much more important" or "slightly more important." Only 11% answered "slightly less important" or "much less important."

Marketers were also asked: "If you were entering the work force now for the first time, would you seek a profession in marketing communications?" The majority, 44%, answered yes. Only 18% answered no, but 37% answered "maybe."

The BMA survey also included some more traditional questions, such as queries about budgeting. The mean summary showed that trade shows represented the No. 1 expenditure, garnering 18.6% of the marketing budget. Next was trade publication advertising at 13.8%, followed closely by Internet/electronic media at 13.5%, although that likely included a company’s own Web site expenditures as well as online advertising outlays.

"It doesn’t take a genius to see that the Internet and other digital media channels are filling a major role at the expense of space advertising," Kean said. "You see that right away."

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based CMO Council’s online survey, "Measures+Metrics Auditâ€"Assessing Marketing Value and Impact," appeared to be scolding companies that did not measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. Even in these ROI-oriented times, the survey found that more than 80% of respondents did not have formal marketing performance measurement (MPM) systems in place.

Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, is a big believer in MPM. A former consumer packaged goods marketing executive, Neale-May said, "The last thing these [CPG] companies needed was more brand awareness. They needed to move product off the shelves."

MPM can help do that, Neale-May said. The study found that nearly 90% of respondents, most of whom had VP titles or above, agreed, believing that measuring marketing performance is a key priority for technology companies. The study found that companies that used MPM systems tend to enjoy a handful of advantages: They consistently have a higher level of CEO confidence in marketing, and they outperform the market in sales growth, market share and profitability.

Despite the apparent advantages of MPM systems, about 70% of respondents said they spend less than 2% of their marketing budget on measuring the effectiveness of marketing. At the same time, nearly 60% of respondents plan to boost spending on ROI measurement in the next two years.

Respondents said that when they did measure ROI, they most often tracked qualified leads, revenue impact, feedback from sales and channel groups, and Web site traffic. The least tracked were stock price, share of mind and brand equity.

Additionally, respondents said the easiest-to-measure marketing activities were direct mail, e-mail, search engine advertising and telemarketing. Hardest-to-measure marketing activities were advertising, collateral and branding.

Cognos’ Laverty said the focus on the performance of individual programs is shortsighted. Any MPM system should focus on marketing’s contribution to the larger business strategy, he said.

"CEOs don’t care about how many leads were generated from some specific campaign, or how many clicks you get on the Web site," he said. "Who cares? But how do you turn marketing into a future bellwether of the business, that’s what the CEO cares about. If all of a sudden the CEO sees people not paying attention to us, and our pipeline is dropping and three to six months from now our sales are going to drop, you have the CEO’s attention."

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