Justify Your Existence

Most things we marketers do are not easily measured. Yet we’re often asked to justify our spend and convince others of the impact of our work. What’s the secret to fending off the inquisition and earning the freedom to move? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • Here’s a sobering factoid: 52% of CEOs don’t believe marketing is driving top-line revenue. 😵‍💫
  • This is nothing new. CEOs and CFOs have long viewed marketing as “a cost to be minimized rather than an engine of growth and profitability to invest in.”
  • This has been exacerbated in the last decade by digital platforms and ad tech vendors who position targeted digital ads as a panacea—more measurable and less wasteful than all those old traditional methods.
  • Many of us have attempted to reverse these stubborn misperceptions by trying to calculate some sort of ROI on marketing spend.
  • ROI is an imperfect tool for this challenge. For one, it’s usually time-boxed—which means long term effects (like multi-year efforts to build brand equity) can easily be missed.
  • It’s also inherently narrow and reductive—pitting one figure (cost) against another (gains) and spitting out a percentage.
  • A modern marketing department is a complicated beast engaged in many activities with a variety of different goals and time horizons. Only a fraction of these activities can be reduced to the narrow ROI formula.
  • And this fraction relies on accurate data, which is (understatement) not always easy to come by.
  • The real issue here is communication. CMOs and CFOs speak different languages.
  • Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar describes this divide with chilling clarity: “Many CMOs have risen through the creative route, they are like a rabbit caught in the headlights. They talk about jargon and marketing KPIs, which the CFO and CEO could care less about.”
  • Grace Kite thinks the answer lies in new language that can frame a story about marketing outcomes in more useful and nuanced terms.
  • Tom Fishburne (aka The Marketoonist) advocates a broader reframing that positions marketing as much more than a mere communications function.
  • We think both of them are onto something. We don’t need better numbers. We need better stories.
  • After all, storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. It transcends department divides.
  • compelling story can help a listener “organise a mass of data into a form that is compelling and engaging. Something that is memorable, repeatable and credible.”
  • In the simplistic story told by platforms and adtech vendors, marketing is a vending machine. Dollars go in and revenue comes out.
  • It’s time for marketers to reclaim and reshape that narrative. To add some nuance and depth. And—in doing so—earn ourselves some room to move. So where do you start?
  • First, commit to using simple language instead of marketing jargon. If the story isn’t clear, there’s no use telling it.
  • Second, work to understand your audience and engage them on their terms. For most of us (your humble author included), this means upping our financial literacy.
  • Third, make the story relevant to your specific context. What are the biggest pain points and priorities for the c-suite at this moment? How does your team’s work connect to what matters most?
  • Fourth, beware of narrow narratives. Campaign results may seem like a good place to focus but your department does so much more. Highlight the breadth of your work instead. And make sure your story includes all of the ways marketing adds value.
  • Last but not least—a tip for further reading. We’re fans of Kathleen Schaub’s thinking on this subject and she’s offering a free ebook on rethinking ROI and accountability. Bolster your story by reading hers first.
  • If all of this feels a bit daunting, don’t let it. It’s true that changing an engrained mindset is never easy. But it’s also true that telling persuasive stories is what we marketers do best—even if it requires swimming against the current.
Issue #151
Sep 11, 2022

Further Reading