Today’s successful organisations are driven by marketing and have brands at their core. Businesses that understand this are conspicuous. They have marketing represented on their board. That’s boardroom marketing.

Businesses with boardroom marketing have always stood the best chance of success. In fact, others have only survived this long courtesy of buoyant markets and the generally low competency of their competitors. However, in the digital economy where opportunities are rarer, competition is tougher and standards are higher, all this changes. Marketing driven businesses with brands at their core will be the only survivors of the digital revolution.

Putting marketing in the driving seat

I’m pleased to see this fact is increasingly acknowledged. In 2016 more CEOs were elevated from senior marketing roles than any other apart from CFOs. This trend has been building and looks set to continue. 

Nevertheless, this realisation is by no means universal. In a poll I saw only last week 75% of respondents stated their organisation had a problem with customer centricity. This can only be so if the organisation doesn’t take marketing seriously. It’s the marketers in an organisation who are responsible for the customer relationship and if they don’t wield the influence they should the customer won’t be sufficiently represented. It stands to reason, organisations that are truly committed to customer centricity and customer service will have a marketing director, sitting on the board and influencing decisions at the highest level – boardroom marketing.

If you want to be a survivor you have to be clear on two things. Firstly you have to understand brands. That may seem obvious, but believe me, remarkably few people and even some executives who call themselves marketers, truly get it. Secondly, you’ll need to know what marketing is. Again, it can’t be assumed everyone knows this, but if you are boardroom marketing you are probably heading in the right direction. Let’s define both here and now.

Understanding “brand”.

Let’s start with brands. I often kick-off my workshops by asking delegates what they think a brand is and I usually get the same  bunch of answers. Many see brands as the products they sell, or the culture of the organisations. A few still adhere to the out-dated belief that a logo is a brand. None of these is actually wrong, but they are the accoutrement of a brand not what constitutes it. You need to drill deeper to understand it’s makeup. 

The key to understanding brands and how they work is in fact to view a brand as a community of people with shared values and beliefs.  Think about it. If your stakeholders have the important things, including the business objective, in common and are equally committed to playing their part in delivering the promise that is inherent in the brand you immediately eliminate a lot of waste. When everyone is pulling in the same direction you reduce argument about what’s useful and what’s not. You eliminate the massive amount of wasted time, effort and funds many businesses experience, in pursuing off-piste projects or initiatives. Things happen faster, which is essential in the digital age. You’ll innovate more readily, because, once everyone knows what they are collectively striving for they will have ideas for how that can be achieved. In short, you’ll achieve the level of efficiency and that’s the difference between success and failure in the digital economy. Businesses that aren’t boardroom marketing are unlikely to survive the next couple of years.

Of course, none of this just happens, you have to put some work into it. That’s internal marketing and if you’ve been running your business as you should you’d have been engaged in internal marketing for years already. You just need to bring your methods up to date.

Motivating stakeholders

The other thing to consider is who is included in your community. It’s not just employees. Nor is it only customers. Both are there, but so too are investors, partners, distributors and retailers. This is another area where many businesses make a fatal mistake. 

I mentioned a moment ago the promise that is inherent in every brand, whether or not you strive to influence what that is. It’s often assumed by anyone who comes in contact with the brand rather than stated. That much is a product of consistent words and actions. The only way you will influence what people take out is to live your brand, be authentic. To do this you have to avoid making different promises to different stakeholder segments. It may resonate in different ways with different groups, but it’s a single promise made to everyone and understanding what that is, is part of your Brand Discovery programme.

So, that’s a crash course on brands. Now let’s consider the other half of the equation – Marketing.

Defining “marketing”

Like brands, marketing is a much misunderstood subject. Despite decades of discussion many people, even some marketers, still confuse marketing and communications. I never cease to be amazed that so many people who call themselves marketers are really only fulfilling a communications role.

Marketing is the process of aligning businesses to opportunities. Yes, advertising and other communications channels are part of the process, but they are just a corner of the much bigger marketing landscape. In the simplest of terms a marketer reviews the marketplace, identifies the opportunities, reviews the organisation’s resources and defines what is necessary to equip the business to deliver what’s required to exploit the opportunities. That includes taking your proposition to market, but determining what that is and creating the products or solutions and doing so viably is very much the precursor.

This means that marketers should be creating the business strategy and driving the internal initiatives that fill the gaps in the organisation’s resources. A marketer sets the agenda for human resources management, hiring and training, product development, manufacturing processes, supply chain, in fact, just about every area of the organisation. In today’s most successful businesses marketers are in the driving seat and brand defines their route.

Transformation is a marketing function too.

Marketers are also the responsible for transformation.  Both transformation and marketing are centred on aligning a business to the opportunities of  the marketplace. Transformation is also not a new phenomenon. Smart businesses have always embraced technological advances with transformation. Current challenges and opportunities may be very much centred on digital technology, but that’s just the flavour of today’s technology. In the past it has been things like the invention of the wheel, the discovery of fire, Henry Ford’s production line, electricity… Don’t make the mistake of thinking transformation is always digital and be sure to avoid the error many are making of thinking of it as an IT project. That’s a sure route to failure.

The inescapable logic of boardroom marketing

Hopefully, being aware of all of this, will lead every business leader to the inescapable conclusion. Brands are the core of any successful organisation and marketing is their driving force. This being so it’s also unarguable that marketing is a C-suite function. It should therefore be represented on every board.

However, this is just a precis of the full story. If you remain unconvinced you’ll have to get in touch with me. I’m always happy to explain in more detail and help you understand what you need to do to survive in the digital economy. You will then be able to lead your organisation to triumph in the digital economy.

Phil Darby
May 8, 2019

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