Has Marketing Become an 'Island Surrounded by Mirrors'?

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Marketers risk forming a parallel universe and distancing themselves from the business, HP CMO Antonio Lucio says.
Marketers risk forming a parallel universe and distancing themselves from the business, HP CMO Antonio Lucio says. Credit: HP

The mission of marketing is to build brands that stand the test of time, not to build brands for the sake of it. By building strong, preferred and differentiated brands, sustainable business results will follow.

But today, I believe our profession must do better and assume a more strategic role within business. We must be responsible for generating revenue and demand today and identifying new opportunities for tomorrow.

Business people first, marketing artisans second
Most of the CMOs in the Forbes Most influential CMO list have one thing in common: They have a significant impact in driving top and bottom line business results. Kristin Lemkau at Chase, Raja Rajamannar at MasterCard and Leslie Berland at Twitter, among others, are all highly valued members of the company's senior leadership teams—which means their influence transcends their functional role.

They are culturally bilingual, capable of translating highly technical functional terminology into business impact. They speak up on all issues affecting the business and design customer-centric solutions. They can demonstrate the value of marketing in every action.

"Island surrounded by mirrors"
As we evaluate the future of marketing, we must be sure we do not spend all our time discussing important yet technical aspects of our craft, and not enough time showcasing the value of our function in driving revenue. Many marketing functions I am seeing have become internally driven, what the late Maurice Ferrer called "islands surrounded by mirrors," that have lost confidence and perspective in their important role in the business.

We are obsessed by the implications of technology in the digital world. We spend huge amounts of time and energy time discussing issues of transparency in digital media. We engage in Byzantine debates about whether two seconds and 50% of an ad on-screen is a "view." We have created our own language and an entire industry of digital publications and CMO roundtables built to cater to marketers' needs and, I worry, perpetuate our echo chamber.

Yes, it is critical that we sort out all the important implications of the digital world in our craft. Two years ago, at HP, we decided to bring digital ad buying technology and management in-house for greater visibility and impact. We audit our media inventory for desired outcomes and take calculated steps so our brand does not show up next to content that doesn't reflect our values. I also applaud and support the terrific work of Marc Pritchard at P&G and Keith Weed at Unilever in this area.

I am simply calling for a balanced narrative.

We must acknowledge that as we continue to create our own language and parallel universe, we lose sight of a mutual understanding shared with others at our companies to define the lead development process and drive revenue.

If this continues, we risk becoming isolated and ultimately irrelevant. To regain the value that our function deserves, we need an all-out, comprehensive shift in mindset supported by bold action through courageous chief marketing officers—and supported by the extended marketing ecosystem that includes journalists, CMO roundtables as well as all digital and technology partners. As we move forward, I believe there are three things we must dramatically change.

Marketing must become more externally focused
It is time for our island to break all its self-serving mirrors and begin to build bridges with the mainland. We need to balance all the necessary technical conversations on digital media and agency relations with conversations about how marketing is driving and can drive the top line. The role of creativity, innovation, big data, digital media and even diversity needs to be presented within the framework of building the business. All the marketing publications and CMO roundtables should make the shift. The discipline needs to showcase its best business-building practices to the world. We need strong spokespeople and amplifiers to deliver this message as our gospel.

Business results must be paramount in creativity awards
It is time to stop rewarding creativity for creativity's sake. All marketing initiatives exist to change perceptions, build meaningful relationships and grow the business and reputation of a brand. Design, engagement and communication are means to an end. They were never intended to be ends in themselves. Many times, at awards festivals, brands are rewarded for programs that never moved the needle in terms of business performance. If, as McKinsey concluded in a recent longitudinal study, there is a direct correlation between creativity and business results, we must force all award entries to demonstrate the ability of an initiative to deliver against its intended business objective. This requires an agreement within the industry to define new measures of success and the harnessing of data analytics to sharpen marketing execution and measurement. Awards are one of the most visible and most media covered events for the function. Let's make them a meaningful symbol of what we are about: building business.

We must reignite the power of brands in the digital world
There has never been greater need for brands than now. CEOs around the world are beginning to understand that the digital world requires constant engagement. Brands must have a clear, unique, meaningful and memorable narrative, plus well-articulated guardrails as to when to lead, follow or react in social conversations on newsworthy issues in an authentic way that reflects our corporate values. Political shifts in key markets around the world have forced companies to have integrated points of views on political, social and economic issues. With so many channels and touch points available, the marketing function must be the ultimate steward of the brand.

From an internal and external customer standpoint, brands must become lighthouses to help navigate the storm of information and misinformation that exist in the world today. These lighthouses have to be anchored in purpose, play a meaningful role in people's lives, behave with integrity and above all be built on strong emotional connections. Importantly, in this era of political division, polarization and misunderstanding, brands have a very important role to play: to stand for the basic human truth that unites us all. Politicians run every four years and can thrive on division and short-term gains. Brands cannot afford that. Our customers vote with their trust and wallets every day. Brands can play and must play a unifying role in the world.

I've had the honor of being in marketing for more than 30 years. Our best still lies ahead of us if, but only if, we reframe the conversation, demonstrate our business value and focus on driving businesses that stand the test of time.

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