CEOs, How to Take Responsibility for Marketing Effectiveness

Five Easy Things a Chief Executive Can Do to Get Greater Results

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Keith Goldberg
Keith Goldberg
As someone who has been a client-side CMO as well as an agency executive, it has always amazed me how little interest many CEOs have in the marketing strategies behind -- and in the programs that represent -- their brands.

At worst, many CEOs possess a skepticism that borders on contempt for marketing. At best, many wrestle with a bipolar view of this function, swinging from thoughts of it as a benign overhead expense ("The shareholders expect us to do marketing, right?") to a magic bullet ("The new campaign has been out a week and why hasn't the entire course of our company's history been altered?").

Without going into the many reasons why CEOs often fall into these categories -- and without pondering how much this has to do with CMOs' averaging less than two years on the job -- let's just say this situation has a lot to do with CEOs being time-starved. In all seriousness, there is a lot on the CEO's plate -- especially these days.

So Mr. or Ms. CEO, if you're reading this (or if your CMO has anonymously slipped this under your door), here are five things you should do to get greater results from marketing:

1. Get to know your CMO. If the only time the two of you spend together is at the monthly forecasting meeting, it's time to set up a standing breakfast or lunch twice a month. At these get-togethers, there should be only one hard and fast rule: Your CMO must feel comfortable giving it to you straight.

Yes, you do your best trying to get all of the executives to play nice, but getting a marketing idea through the corporate gauntlet is like trying to get a bill through Congress. At this very moment, there are financial people, engineers, product leaders and sales executives trying to kill a big idea before it gets to you because they either didn't invent it themselves or would have to fund it with dollars they'd otherwise hoard to make the short-term numbers more gaudy. Isn't short-term thinking what got us into the current economic mess?

2. Call 10 customers a week. Get on the phone and ask them how you're doing and what you could be doing better, and get their thoughts on everything from the helpfulness of your customer-service representatives to the usefulness of your website to the relevance of your products. These are the most important calls you'll make all week. Once in a while, have some of your executives listen in. The product-development people are the most fun. They tend to turn bright red.

3. Take your agency people to lunch. This will be the second-most-important thing you do after getting on the phone to customers. You do not want the CEO or the chairman of your agency anywhere near this lunch. If you want to be schmoozed, and wind up paying for the pleasure, you can invite them out anytime. Demand a lunch with the creative team, the strategists and account people who actually do the day-to-day work on your account. Your CMO can set this up but should not be invited to attend.

Tell the team that you would like their best ideas for building your brand. They have tons of thoughts that have never escaped the walls of the agency (yes, there are politics there, too). I promise this lunch will leave you feeling invigorated -- maybe even blown away -- and happy to pick up the tab.

4. Follow the money directly to your customers. Media dollars, as well as marketing innovation, have moved steadily to platforms that are dialogue-driven. The internet, social media and live events all share a common thread: they create community. Community is precisely what today's customer wants and expects. This is a boon for any smart brand.

Put plainly, you don't have to be a marketing guru to know that the closer you can get to the customer, the better chance you have to create a relationship. Today's customers (I'll say it again because it's so important!) crave community with the brands they love. Your question for your marketing folks is simple: "Are we getting close enough to our customers?" If not, let them know you will support them in making it happen. Fast.

5. Always take a call from Warren Buffett. First, because he's Warren Buffett. Second, because an investment from him will do more for your share price than any marketing campaign known to man. And third, maybe he can tell you why that Geico gecko is so darned successful. Hey, from a marketing perspective, you could do worse.

Keith Goldberg, whose book, "The Brand Campfire Effect," is due out in the spring, is senior VP-client strategy at EWI Worldwide. He can be reached at [email protected].
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