Why marketers need to get better at marketing marketing

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Everything you do outside of communications impacts on the consumer experience

“It’s lovely to see our C-suite colleagues don’t share [our doubts]. On the whole they are not the ones saying marketing doesn’t deserve a seat at the table. Bizarrely it’s marketing people doing that, we really shouldn’t.”

Salesforce’s vice-president of marketing in the UK and Ireland, Ashling Kearns, agreed that much of marketing’s lack of confidence is self-inflicted, pointing out she had never seen a report into the effectiveness of a CIO or chief commercial officer.

“We are the worst marketers of our own discipline and brand,” she stated. “Marketing is the only function that touches every other aspect within a company, has a true overview of the customer experience. It’s fairly unique.”

That job of marketing marketing is especially critical in a business that doesn’t understand marketing. Wheldon recalled that when he joined RBS he spoke to each of his C-suite colleagues to ask what they expected of him and marketing, and whether they understood marketing. If they didn’t, he tried to educate them using data.

“If you engage, you usually find people go ‘I get that, now go away and get on with it’,” he said. However he cautioned: “If you’ve got a CEO that doesn’t believe in marketing then you have a problem. You can try and educate them. But it’s probably a good idea to go and work somewhere else.” Understanding not just consumers but colleagues and stakeholders as well should be a key part of marketing, said Tesco chief customer officer Alessandra Bellini. “Marketing is about knowing people, understanding what they need and how they need it and then positioning it in a way that satisfies their latent or explicit needs. I like the idea of understanding what the colleagues need on the board and trying to deliver it with integrity.” That is just as important when talking to the C-suite as it is with other colleagues. That is why a CMO needs to be as responsible for internal marketing as external.

“If you think of a customer journey, it’s a collection of hundreds of little touchpoints that a consumer has with your brand or product. You can satisfy, frustrate or delight at any moment and if there’s a weak link in that then you’ll fail,” said Birds Eye marketing director Steve Challouma.

Bellini agreed: “If colleagues don’t believe in what we do it’s going to be really hard. There is no advertising budget [that could overcome that]. They need to believe it first. It’s a big preoccupation. If we don’t convince the people who work for Tesco that Tesco is worth their trust, then we have no chance with the people who don’t work there.”

We are the worst marketers of our own discipline and brand

Reports all too often suggest the CMO role is obsolete but top marketers from RBS, Tesco, Birds Eye and Salesforce disagree, with RBS’s CMO David Wheldon saying “when marketers deliver, there is no problem”.

Tesco CCO Alessandra Bellini on why brands are needed

Much has also been made of the changing nature of the CMO role. WPP boss Mark Read has called out CMOs for effectively becoming chief communications officers and retreating into just one of the ‘four Ps’.

But Challouma believes that to credibly be a marketing leader, CMOs must have accountability across the business. “That scope of role is critical because everything you do outside of communications impacts on the consumer experience. Whether you launch a new product, your pricing, your execution, it all comes together and you need that full accountability.” Some companies, under the pretext of giving marketing leaders more accountability, have given the marketing boss a new title such as chief customer or chief growth officer. The latter, in particular, is seen as an issue, as is too much fiddling with the name.

“The name is important,” said Challouma. “When you get to chief customer officer, that makes sense; chief growth officer, everyone is responsible for growth – finance, sales. When it gets worse is chief storyteller. And that starts to undermine trust in the profession because you don’t see the CFO being renamed chief cash generation officer. We need to be careful.” Wheldon agreed, pointing out that marketers alone are not responsible for growth but should work with the rest of the business. “It’s a ‘we’ thing not a ‘me’ thing,” he added. “Driving a business ahead is a ‘we’ thing and marketing has a seat at the table to do that.” For marketers looking to join the next generation of leaders, Challouma had some advice. And that involves getting outside of marketing to learn more about a business more generally, something he believes marketers are less willing to do than other functions.

“I would encourage people to spend some time outside marketing getting functional expertise,” he explained. “I find functions outside of marketing willing to come into marketing and I’m open-minded to that. I rarely find a brand manager wanting to go and do a sales or supply chain role for a couple of years, but that can set you up just as well to have those conversations in terms of credibility and understanding total business issues.”

Why marketers need
to get better at
marketing marketing



This is especially important for companies that might be going through a difficult patch, or for Tesco and RBS, which are responsible for the two biggest losses in UK corporate history. Here, said Wheldon, starting from the inside is integral.

“We had eras where people didn’t want to say who they worked for,” he recalled. “Most of the news about us when I joined was negative and deservedly so given the history. But you focus on your colleagues, on doing the right thing, and on never shying away from the truth of the problem you’ve got and always having it front and centre.


In this situation, said Kearns, focusing on core values as a marketer is key. “In a situation like that, pivoting back to your values and the company values comes very strongly into play. I’ve seen that with marketers over the last couple of years pivoting to values-based marketing, bringing their DNA into the day-to-day.”

SPONSORED BY salesforce

RBS CMO David Wheldon on what’s expected of marketing


Ashling Kearns, Salesforce


Barely a month goes by without a report into the ‘death’ of the CMO, whether that is due to the rise of job titles such as chief growth officer or marketing’s perceived inability to speak the language of business.

Yet RBS CMO David Wheldon’s response to this is “bollocks”. He says he has never understood the “polemic” in the industry around the role of the CMO.



The changing nature of the CMO

Steve Challouma, Birds Eye



He points to the fact that in a recent survey by Deloitte, while just 5% of marketers had confidence in their ability to influence the overall direction of a business and garner support from peers, this wasn’t matched by their C-suite colleagues. Almost 50% of CEOs think CMOs are highly effective, as do CFOs, CIOs and CTOs.

“What us marketers need to remember is we are a profession, we need to earn our seat at the table and above all we need to deliver. And when we do there is no problem,” he said, speaking as part of a panel discussion at the Festival of Marketing. He was joined by fellow members of Marketing Week’s Top 100, sponsored by Salesforce – our list of the UK’s most effective marketers, revealed in September.

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