There’s been a lot of talk lately of the demise of the Marketing Director. My initial reaction was this was just another example of the tendency I highlighted in a recent article, for the marketing community to give new names to old things in the hope that this will make them sound smart and pro-active. However, in this case there are developments elsewhere that suggest there might be more to it.

For example I recall a report earlier this year that, after years of steady increase, in 2016 for the first time the number of marketing directors being promoted to CEO roles was greater than those from the traditional sales or finance roles. This itself suggests a significant mind-shift. It seems we finally have a critical mass of businesses that recognise success comes from being marketing driven.

Arriving at this consensus has been a bit of a struggle; mainly because too many senior executives, and I’m not excluding marketers from this, don’t know what “marketing” is. The confusion between marketing communications and marketing is not new. It’s similar to that which exists between brands and logos and it has held up progress, not only within the organisations concerned, but across the commercial world. Hopefully, now we are generally on-board with the idea that marketing is the process of aligning organisations to opportunities and marketing communication, which many have been mistaking for “marketing”, describes only the communications involved in that process, we can get on with things.

Once you get this it is an easy to see how marketing sets the agenda for process design, structure, recruitment and training, product creation and every other function of an organisation. Marketing clearly influences and is reliant upon a complex matrix of disciplines and, as in any other area of a business, the emergence of digital tools has added to the complexity.

The person orchestrating all of this, in any kind of grown-up company, has always been the marketing director, so you can understand quite how critical the role has become. Marketing is at least as important as operations or finance, so I’ve never understood why some firms call someone “marketing director” when they do not sit on the board. “Director” by definition is a board position. If you are not on the board you are a “manager” or “head of  “ or something, but definitely not a director. To manage all the specialists that constitute today’s marketing team requires not only at least a basic understanding of the role each plays in a modern marketing strategy, but a general appreciation of the roles of the specialists in just about every other area of the organisation too.  You also need authority. This is a director’s role. Marketing communications, on the other hand, is too narrow a discipline to be represented on the board so Marcomms roles are managers not directors.

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of marketing directors who measure up, probably because they were appointed to the “marketing communications” function by people who believed this was all marketing is. Furthermore, other C-suite executives have been keen to confine marketers to the servile, communications function and even some incumbent marketing directors have been happy to keep the role as undemanding as possible. Consequently, we find ourselves in a marketing-driven business environment where many organisations’ don’t have marketing represented on their board,. This is not only a travesty but a policy that can only lead in one direction for the organisations concerned.

The two leading questions facing the organisations trying to put this right are 1) Can they establish the authority and redefine the role of the marketing director to include things like brand, customer experience, customer service and support, product development, and the like, given the limited general understanding people have of marketing, marketers and the director’s role to date? and 2) Where will they find candidates for the role, given that so few of those already occupying these positions have the necessary diversity of skills.

The customer pipeline, which it is, after all, the primary responsibility of the marketing director to establish, incorporates things like data management and in-bound enquiry handling. As such, it employs technology, which requires IT and other specialists to spend some of their time sitting on marketing project teams. Many organisations are still characterised by IT or operations silos, that resist becoming a cog in the marketing wheel.  These silos are what analysts point to as one of the reasons 70% of transformation fail, with many of the organisations concerned disappearing.

Some CEOs who recognise the need to give marketing board-level authority, are seeking to side-step prejudices by giving the marketing job a different name. Hence the suggestions, that the marketing director role is being replaced by jobs with titles like Customer Experience Director, Brand Director and Customer Relationship Director.

While you can see the logic in this approach, it has the effect of dividing the marketing role and introducing new silos among the disciplines. This is worsened if the organisation isn’t replacing the marketing role in this way, but adding an additional title to the mix. This way you end up with a curiously unhelpful anomaly where the marketing role is subordinate to the specialist role that should be a part of the marketing function.

Certainly, the numerous individual skills that make up a modern marketing strategy have to be delivered by specialists, but each of their contributions has to be briefed, quality-controlled and combined, in the correct formula, to produce the marketing director’s strategy. Dividing the role and appointing a number of directors to different aspects of marketing, transfers responsibility for delivery of the marketing strategy to the CEO. You may think this is OK, after all, in today’s marketing-driven organisations the marketing strategy is the business strategy, however, the CEO’s role, even if it is occupied by a marketer, needs to operate at a higher level, coordinating the contributions of the wider stakeholder group including investors and ensuring the remaining directors play nicely and deliver the requirements identified by the marketing strtaegy.

I believe the solution lies in education rather than revolution. It’s no use avoiding the issue, we need to ensure everyone understands what “marketing” is and the role it plays in today’s organisations. We also need to appreciate that marketing directors are a product of years of experience and a college leaver isn’t going to cut it. Mostly we need to understand that re-naming a problem doesn’t make it go away.

First published on LinkedIn November 2017

Phil Darby
August 3, 2018

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