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Redefining the role and purpose of marketing

drawing an arrow on a board

“Who owns data and CX? It should be us but it is unclear at the moment”. This was just one of the many conversations I have had with marketing and customer leaders over the past few weeks, all of whom are navigating the changing landscape within their organisation. It’s the era of the customer and businesses are struggling to find new sources of growth, so it’s marketing’s time to shine, right?

So why are many senior customer and marketing leaders finding it so challenging right now? We know the statistics, CMO tenure is the lowest in the C-Suite, which suggests there is something going on in the executive ranks. Whilst it’s an era of great opportunity, the demands on these senior leaders are escalating, and many are caught in the cross-fire as they attempt to drive cross-functional alignment and focus.  

The role of marketing is changing within organisations, but many haven’t clearly or overtly defined how. To create the conditions to enable success, it is becoming increasingly important for marketing and customer leaders to step back and re-define the role and purpose of marketing within their organisation.  Looking back to move forward Historically in Australia, unlike in many other markets, two to three players dominated most industries. The net result of the lack of competition and need to differentiate, meant in many markets Marketing’s domain focussed on brand and communications. The role of marketing within organisations was squarely focussed on “promotion” or driving go to market activities. As market dynamics changed, organisations need marketing to solve a very different set of problems centred around the customer and business growth. To solve these problems, marketing needs to play a bigger role in shaping the organisations strategic direction, have greater responsibility for the levers that drive revenue and profitability and an ability to lead and drive cross-functional alignment to solve problems that matter to customers, to name a few. This means, the goal posts for the role marketing plays have shifted from where they once were in many industries and businesses.  

McKinsey highlighted in a recent article that “In recent years, a sea change has occurred at leading companies. Executives at these organisations no longer view marketing as bound by functions that sit in the marketing department. Instead, they think in terms of what we call “marketing with a capital M.” In this model, diverse areas of the organization—from sales and product innovation to finance, technology, and HR—participate in marketing’s success and see themselves as partners in its mission.”  Whilst this is what many customers leaders are striving for, the reality is many organisations are not operating this way and we have a long way to get to a state as described by McKinsey.

It starts with redefining the role and purpose of mark

In order for customer and marketing leaders and their teams to be more successful, it is becoming increasingly important to re-define the role and purpose of marketing with in their organisation.

A time for change sign

This enables these leaders, to drive focus and cross-functional alignment around customer initiatives and gives the organisation a greater chance of success in transitioning to a customer led approach. Defining a clear role also helps guide and anchor any wider marketing transformation efforts that need to be undertaken.

The good news in some cases, is that marketing is already being charged with greater accountability around the customer, data or CX. This makes the process of redefining the role that bit easier as the change in accountability is acknowledgement that marketing’s role is evolving. Despite this extra accountability however the wider organisation doesn’t really know what this means and the historical frames of reference don’t help their cause. On the flip side, in other instances leaders are struggling at the first pass, failing to engage the executive and wider organisation on the value marketing can create in a customer driven future. In this instance the road to redefining the role and purpose of marketing is likely to be more challenging.  So how do leaders start to tackle this mind-field? The steps and approach will differ based on the organisational context but some of the key things to consider and expect are;

  • Alignment with the CEO – The customer or marketing leader must engage the CEO to drive alignment and endorsement around a re-defined role and purpose of marketing within the organisation to ensure it has a clear mandate. Having the support and buy in also ensures there is a strong voice at the table along the journey as marketing re-orients and lives out its role in the business.

  • Engaging the team – Co-designing the role and purpose with the team can often aid in driving greater awareness, understanding and embracing of the “what” and “why” of a newly defined role and purpose of marketing.

  • Driving peer understanding and buy-in ­­– Having a clearly defined role and mandate is one thing but this doesn’t mean it won’t be met with challenges.  Many executives within the C-Suite have developed their careers in a time where marketing played a certain role which have shaped their perceptions. Engaging in a genuine dialogue with the executive team on the purpose and role will allow them to wrestle with what it means. It is also worthwhile to identify advocates and champions early on and determine how best to harness their energy, enthusiasm and backing.

  • Don’t expect overnight acceptance - Change and acceptance isn’t instant or overnight regardless of the starting point. Initial reactions at all levels of the organisation may not be what you would have liked or thought.  Shifts in the purpose, role or mandate will require marketing and customer leaders to educate, demonstrate, communicate and act inline with the newly defined role consistently and ongoing in order for effective change to take hold.

  • Consider the impacts and plan for change - Redefining the role is really the start of journey albeit a very important one. Once the role and purpose are defined, the next logical step is to determine how to re-orient marketing and the wider organisation to enable marketing to play its role and live its purpose.

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