As the last month in the first quarter, March is when clients and agencies look longingly for signs of growth—any green shoots that hint at a bountiful year ahead.
So as our hearts melt with the coming of spring, let’s take a moment to consider what really drives meaningful growth, so we can plant the seeds now before it’s too late.
But wait, we already know what drives growth, don’t we? Marketing is an investment, and growth is the return on that investment. Marketing drives awareness and behavioral change. If the word marketing is in your job description, that’s the reason for your existence—to drive business growth by building brand preference.
And yet, even as you read this, CFOs across the country are slashing marketing budgets in anticipation of the recession getting worse, an economic fall off a cliff that makes the next Tom Cruise stunt look like a hop, skip and a jump. Someone who’s been through an economic downturn might suggest that driving consumer preference is the only way to make it through a recession and come out the other side, but most companies—too many, in fact—are run by financial people, not by product people, marketing mavens or operationally-obsessed leaders focused on customer experience. The company’s strategic brand house may have growth somewhere in the attic, but all the talk in the kitchen is about performance and optimization.
In other words, CMOs are struggling to make the case to their CFOs that marketing isn’t a discretionary expense t be turned on or off like a faucet. That’s reckless behavior, because a weak brand is the first sign of business malaise—the runny nose the day before you’re in bed with a fever. Coming out of a pandemic, we should know better.