Marketers’ role evolving beyond communications

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The role of marketing has become much more strategic over the past three years as marketers have been more involved in driving innovation and new-business development at their organizations, according to a joint study by the Association of National Advertisers and BtoB.

The study was based on an online survey of 383 marketers, conducted in February and March by research firm Guideline. The respondents were made up of 167 b-to-b marketers, 86 b-to-c marketers and 130 hybrid marketers.

Marketing more relevant

"Marketing is more relevant now than ever before," said Michael Palmer, exec VP-member relations at the ANA, during a presentation of the findings at the Business-to-Business Marketing Conference, a one-day ANA/BtoB event last month in Santa Clara, Calif. He pointed to another ANA survey that found 70% of marketing organizations have been reorganized in the past three years.

"Marketers are changing their role from marketing communications to other strategic functions, although the role of marketing communications is still the primary role," Palmer said.

The ANA/BtoB survey found that for companies that had undergone a reorganization, 62% of the b-to-b marketers cited marketing communications as the primary role of marketing prior to the reorganization. It was cited as the primary role following reorganization by 47%.

One of the biggest shifts has been in the primacy of strategy.

Only 14% of b-to-b marketers identified strategy/innovation as their primary role prior to reorganization; 24% said strategy/innovation was their primary goal following reorganization.

Another function seeing elevated status among marketers is directing new-business development.

Only 10% of b-to-b marketers said new-business development was a primary goal prior to a reorganization, compared with 23% following reorganization.

However, while b-to-b marketers are becoming more involved in strategic decision-making at their companies, they still have a long way to go, according to the survey.

When asked how often marketing makes strategic decisions at the organization, only 11% of b-to-b marketers said "always" and 37% said "most of the time." By comparison, 17% of b-to-c marketers said they "always" make strategic decisions, while 39% responded "most of the time."

Palmer said one of the biggest disconnects in organizations is that "marketing and CEOs are not on the same page."

The survey found that among b-to-b marketers, only 49% of respondents said marketing works in partnership with the CEO "most of the time" or "always." By comparison, 58% of b-to-c marketers said marketing works with the CEO either "most of the time" or "always."

Tactics vs. strategy

"Marketers are still more focused tactically, while CEOs expect them to be more strategic," Palmer said.

For example, only 37% of b-to-b marketers approve growth-oriented investment decisions "most of the time" or "always" (compared with 41% of b-to-c marketers).

During a panel discussion at the ANA/BtoB event to discuss the survey, marketers that had recently undergone a reorganization talked about the changing role of marketing and how that aligns with other functions.

"There is no perfect organization," said Beth Stelluto Dunaier, senior VP-marketing communications at Charles Schwab Corp., which has been centralizing its marketing function over the last four to five years.

"While [marketing centralization] does have benefits, it's a little more distant from the product expertise and a little more distant from some other operations. We have to work harder at breaking down those siloes."

She said it is important for marketing to be closely aligned with sales.

For example, Schwab's marketing group is currently developing a Web site in conjunction with the sales group.

"Integration is key," Stelluto Dunaier said.

Rod DeVar, manager of advertising at the U.S. Postal Service, said sales and marketing have recently been aligned, with both reporting to the CMO.

"Now pricing is in marketing, sales is in marketing and it's all under the CMO title," DeVar said.

"Our CMO is very strong on collaboration and bringing the groups together under common roles. It has worked very well. Once you agree on what needs to be accomplished, a lot of positive things start happening."

Bob Durstenfeld, director of PR and investor relations at RAE Systems, said that in order for marketing to enjoy a seat at the executive table, it must have an understanding of issues that go beyond marketing.

"A good marketer has to be the radar. You have to sustain awareness at several levels—across the political, economic and competitive environment, and you have to understand the interplay. If you're not out there with your radar on all the time, you're not going to be invited to the table."

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