Marketing has had plenty of good news in recent months about its rise in influence within business, with a fifth of FTSE 100 CEOs now having a marketing or sales background. But while CEOs such as Tesco’s Dave Lewis and BT’s Gavin Patterson are lighting the way for the profession, perceptions need to be changed among other business functions. Marketers are still failing to communicate the strategic value of their role to other departments and senior leaders, according to two studies shown exclusively to Marketing Week.

Marketers’ colleagues struggle to see the value of marketing beyond its creative output, so they rate other teams, such as sales and customer service, as more valuable to the business. That is not to say that marketing’s contribution is not appreciated, but other departments tend to focus on the executional aspects of marketing such as advertising, PR and brand management, so overlook the strategic role it plays.

The first study, conducted by Research Now, represents the views of 646 non-marketing employees in UK companies employing at least 50 people, from junior to director level, in departments such as operations, sales, finance, IT, customer service, HR, research and development (R&D) and purchasing.

Encouragingly, regardless of department, less than 1% of respondents believe marketing has little or no effect on the business and 84% say marketing is essential. However, sales (94%), customer service (92%) and manufacturing/operations (85%) are all deemed more important than marketing. Only finance (79%), purchasing (74%) and HR (54%) are seen as less critical. Over half (54%) see advertising and promotions as the top marketing activity, followed by 47% for brand management and development, 39% for brochure production and 34% for organising events.

Strategy versus execution

“In many organisations, marketing is more consumer-facing and [towards the end of their planning processes], so it does get seen as more executional and therefore less strategic,” says Sholto Douglas-Home, CMO at recruitment firm Hays. “That is the root of the issue.”

Douglas-Home says that the killer aspect to this argument is “to what extent marketing can play a role at the start of the process”.

Tesco’s CEO Dave Lewis is one of a few in the FTSE 100 with a marketing background

He adds: “When marketing is part of the strategic fulcrum of an organisation, it is seen as a strategic function and less of an execution function and that [can define] the perceptions and the reputation of marketing.”

A separate study by The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) echoes the reputation issues for marketing within organisations. Two-thirds (67%) of marketers agree that despite the perceived organisational commitment to the brand, there is a feeling among marketers that senior leaders still do not fully appreciate the strategic role of marketing and its potential, meaning the function is often viewed purely as communications-focused.

The CIM report, supported by Brandworkz, is based on the views of 2,200 marketers globally, across a wide range of sectors and levels of seniority. The study identifies areas within organisations that most urgently need tackling in order to enable marketers to deliver on their desired brand experience. The findings will be presented at the CIM’s Brand Health Summit on 2 March.

CIM’s study also shows the effect different functions play in helping to deliver a brand promise, but rather than highlighting a lack of understanding of what marketers do, as in the Research Now report, it reveals that marketers do not believe senior leaders in other departments understand their own role in delivering a brand promise.

More than three-quarters (77%) say their senior leadership teams have a high impact on the delivery of their brand promise through customer experience, yet just over half (52%) believe these same teams have a strong understanding of their role in doing so.

More than a third (36%) feel that leaders within their organisation do not understand what ‘brand’ means for the areas they lead, and 39% do not believe the key business functions, including leadership, speak with a unified voice with regards to the brand vision.

Julien Callede, co-founder and chief operating officer at Made.com, one of the speakers at the CIM’s upcoming event, says the problem should not exist as the brand “should already be at the heart of the organisation”.

“A customer-centric brand shouldn’t need customer service reviews meetings, [it] should just ensure that every discussion about new products, services or retail channels is held first with the customer’s benefits in mind,” he says. “Your brand values should always be in your team members’ minds. If that isn’t the case, your leaders need to spend more time presenting them, their importance, and why they drive your business.”

It comes down to building up marketing’s reputation and having that cascade down to the rest of the organisation from the top, but this comes with its own challenges.

The language of the board

To get an organisation to understand the importance of marketing in a business, many argue having a presence on the board is vital. “Marketers have to take some responsibility and take action here,” advises Steve Woolley, head of external affairs at the CIM. “The solution needs to be to get those leaders to understand how brands can help businesses, [and] marketers have a job to do to make sure this embedding of the brand starts at the top.”

Being able to speak the language of the board is one aspect that will help the process. “Having moved from marketing director to managing director [I think] marketers need to make the effort to try to understand numbers better and the financial implications of the investments they are making,” says Guy North, managing director at Freeview.

Although North says he “wouldn’t necessarily advocate getting into ‘strategy speak’”, he advises marketers to talk in terms that everyone understands and in particular be “able to demonstrate return on investment and the impact marketing activity” can have.

According to Woolley, marketers need to apply the skills they use externally into internal audiences. He says: “One role marketers [should play is as] communicators. If you want to move people from one place to another, you have to think about the best way to do that and use your insight into the way they think to achieve that – [it’s] classic marketing communications.”

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Direct Line Group, which owns Churchill, uses data to differentiate its brands

Douglas-Home believes this also comes with experience. He says: “It’s a learning curve; you have to use the language that proves your commercial and strategic understanding as opposed to your marketing credentials. The nuances of that are critical.”

He says this is a “fundamental thing” that he has had to learn and that other marketers will have to learn too, because “it’s very important that the narrative you tell is a commercial and strategic message, not a marketing message”.

Call for better collaboration

The need for collaboration is another aspect highlighted by both studies; the benefit is greater understanding, not just for other departments but for marketers too.

“It’s really important for all marketers to go out of their way to get a better understanding of the businesses they work in as a whole,” says North at Freeview. “It gives them far better credibility throughout the organisation and greater understanding of the whole [business and its objectives].”

He believes that if a marketer understands the production and the packaging process, for example, they “can see ways of solving issues and saving money in a way that you wouldn’t if [your view is] isolated in the marketing department”.

There is some evidence that this collaboration and understanding is already happening. The Research Now report finds that 72% of those working outside of marketing say that the marketing team collaborates effectively with the sales team and 58% with customer service.

However, less than half of those surveyed believe collaboration is effective between the marketing team and purchasing (34%), manufacturing and operations (40%), and R&D (45%) teams. Respondents also suggest that the marketing team could collaborate more closely with all departments.

Gus Park, commercial director of motor insurance at Direct Line Group, says he would not be able to deliver a business result without “an incredibly strong theme of collaboration and communication through different departments”.

He says: “I have to pull together various parts of the business and make sure the whole thing adds up to deliver the business result we want and the customer outcome we want end-to end.”

Park adds that it is not just marketing and operations that need to be joined up, but aspects such as pricing too as there is “no point in marketing spending a huge amount of money trying to pull customers into segments of the market where our pricing is making us uncompetitive”. Similarly, he says there is “no point in marketing doing direct mail drops when our customer operations aren’t going to be able to answer our phones”.

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Made.com co-founder Julien Callede says brand values should always be in team members’ minds

“It’s about creating a seamless customer experience but also making the commercial [results] add up across the whole piece,” says Park.

However, the opportunity for further future collaboration is there, according to the Research Now study. In departments other than marketing there is an average gap of 21 percentage points between the proportion who say their function should collaborate with marketing and those who say it actually does.

The most significant differences are seen in customer service and R&D with 84% and 74% of respondents, respectively, saying they should collaborate effectively with the marketing team; these represent disparities of 26 and 29 percentage points, compared to current levels of collaboration.

Why data belongs to marketing

The CIM study suggests that a key tool at marketers’ disposal is data and evidence from market and customer research. The report shows that few are sharing this consistently with key internal stakeholders and are therefore missing an opportunity to influence the rest of the company with regards to the customer experience. Only 13% of marketers say they consistently share data with their agency partners, for example.

Just under half (48%) of those surveyed in the CIM study state that brand performance and brand-related metrics are not regularly discussed at the most senior levels of their organisation, and the same percentage do not have a marketing director or CMO on the executive committee and management board.

Woolley says: “If brands are going to permeate the whole organisation, marketers need to create some space for brand [vision] to be in the right conversations. Part of that is about identifying what they can bring to the table in the other functions of the business to keep the brand on the agenda, [using] customer insight, market and competitive intelligence as well as brand performance data.”

The effect of marketers not showing their capabilities in data becomes evident in the Research Now study. It shows that those working outside of marketing do not appear to understand the role that data management and analysis has in driving many marketing activities.

Only 15% see customer data analysis as a function of marketing and 10% say the same for competitor analysis.

For Direct Line Group, the customer data team and competitor analysis sit within marketing’s remit. Mark Evans, CMO at Direct Line Group was “very surprised” that data capabilities scored so low with the wider community within businesses.

He says: “It’s a highly strategic weapon for marketing in a [customer relationship management] context. We do have a data science team but the customer database itself is managed and utilised from within marketing. As a result, we are working with joint business plans and data sharing.”

The use of data has been central in helping the group pull apart and differentiate its brands, which include Direct Line, Churchill and Green Flag. It uses data to design a brand strategy and build propositions with customers before then implementing them, particularly on the Direct Line brand.

Park says: “You can see through that process how at many different points the marketing function has been integral to developing [strategy], using customer data and analysis in doing so.”

The research results shown to Marketing Week also indicate a rise in influence for marketing channels such as social media, web management and search engine optimisation (SEO) capabilities.

Social media is listed as one of the top roles and responsibilities for the marketing team by 41% of non-marketers and 71% say that social media activities have become more important over the past two years.

Over half (51%) of all respondents – both marketers and non-marketers – report that social media specialists have been employed in their marketing team within the past five years. In addition, 56% of respondents say that web management and SEO have increased in importance within the marketing team over the past two years.

It is clear from both studies that marketing has a communications issue and its present task is as much about talking about its worth across the business, in a language that each department understands, as it is about proving it.

Greater collaboration, sharing of data sets and better communication with the board will be vital to the future reputation of marketers within organisations.

Does the role of marketing have a reputation problem with other business functions?

There is a wealth of data that the digital world provides, [which] means the recognition in an organisation of the value that marketing brings is only in an upward trajectory.

There is no reason why marketing should have a monopoly on the data and the digital speed challenge, because it has to drive all organisations, but the marketing skills and the way that it is at the heart of that dynamic is underpinning and strengthening the reputation of marketing in a substantial way.

How has the knowledge of what the marketing function does progressed?

The marketing profession is more strident, confident and articulate in many ways. Its evolving role and the strategic value it offers organisations [means] the jokes about the ‘colouring-in department’ are not credible any more. [In relation to] the strategic role of marketing or the strategic value marketing brings to an organisation as a profession, we are really landing that message.

What steps should marketers take to raise their profile within an organisation?

If we can marry the strategic credibility and contribution that marketing gives with the commercial management capabilities around direct profit-and-loss management and involvement, that would almost complete the circle.

[With] strategic, commercial, executional and the digital, data and conventional creative aspects, we will be seen as a function that can contribute in all of those areas where they are most needed in an organisation.