It’s tough being a Chief Marketing Officer nowadays. It’s always been a high-risk role. Management tends to find it hard to gauge the bottom-line contribution, yet easy to place blame. In a recession, many businesses view marketing as a cost center, and it’s often the first budget to be cut. Then, too, everyone (and his spouse) thinks they’re an expert. It’s no wonder that the average CMO tenure at the top 100 branded companies is just 23 months, according to a study byrecruiting firm Spencer Stuart.
Like a lot of things, marketing used to be simpler. It involved creating a brand message, hiring agencies, and managing promotions. Today, the lines between advertising and other disciplines are blurring as traditional media is being eroded. The market is permanently fragmented, making consumers harder to reach, and resources are scarcer than in the past.
Of course, social media hasn’t just thrown a wrench into things because of advertising changes. BusinessWeek reports that customer trust – generally the domain of the public relations function in most companies – is becoming a much higher priority for the typical CMO. The reasons are obvious. There’s restrained consumer spending, the financial services debacle, and the rise of social media. A recent AdAge story describes a trend of chief communications officers taking on the marketing function in some instances. It seems a better way to control brand perception in light of the risks and opportunities that digital and social media bring.
To make matters worse (or better, depending on your perspective), some claim that, given the power of social media, marketing is all about customer service. That’s right, customer service is the new marketing.
Forget it. In my opinion, the rumors of marketing’s death have been, yes, exaggerated. True, poor customer relations has taken down some companies, and superb customer service has built brands as well. But, I think most marketing officers deserve more credit, and a more expanded role, than that of a glorified PR position joined with customer service. Don’t get me wrong, I think PR is a critical brand function, as is customer service. But, brand reputation shouldn’t be siloed. And, as tempting as it is to boil the big-brand magic down to one ingredient, marketing is a lot more complicated than that.
For every Zappos, there are lots of Krafts…large, multifaceted companies with well-established legacy brands and traditional distribution channels. Steering that kind of brand marketing is like navigating an ocean liner in changing weather – while it’s undergoing renovations.
One thing is true, which is that marketing and PR belong in the same boat. We face similar challenges. But, the double whammy of a poor economy and social megaphone is actually an opportunity for both disciplines. Hard times wreak havoc, but they can also force collaboration innovation, and creativity. The most successful corporate executives will leverage every resource at their disposal to drive both.