Redefining Marketing’s Value in the Organization
Three decades ago, IT struggled to be considered anything outside of a cost-center. Now, technology pervades all aspects of the organization, providing strategic and competitive advantages. Marketing shares a similar – and similarly dated – perception of being seen as a cost center. According to the 2023 CMO Survey from Gartner, 39% of marketing leaders said marketing was perceived as a cost center in the enterprise. The same survey indicated that in the future, marketing will be more often viewed as a revenue driver, less as a cost center, according to expectations of survey participants. In this article, we’ll explore how marketing has shifted from a cost center to being front-and-center when it comes to strategic value in the organization.
Marketing as a Cost Center
Historically, marketing has often been viewed as a necessary but non-strategic part of a company. This view was primarily due to the large amount of spend on advertising and sales support, along with its impact on business growth being indirect and hard to measure. Marketing campaigns failed to show a direct impact on the bottom line as often as it succeeded. Systems weren’t in place for marketing to become customer obsessed, to quickly integrate learning, and use marketing data to inform strategic direction. Few understood marketing’s potential and its role in business growth. With the advent of better data and better processes, this is changing.
Data-Driven Decision Making + Rapid Experimentation
Today, marketing is at the forefront of data-driven decision-making. With advancements in analytics and big data, marketing departments are now able to provide valuable insights into customer behavior, market trends, and the effectiveness of marketing strategies. This data-driven approach allows companies to make informed decisions, tailor their offerings, and improve customer experiences, driving overall business strategy.
Neal Hoyne, Chief Measurement Strategist from Google said,“The companies that are going to win are the ones who are using data, not guessing” during a virtual symposium, “The Use of Analytics and AI in a Post-pandemic World.” Data analytics helps marketers learn about their customers with precision, from their preferred brand of shampoo to their most-listened to bands.
Barkha Saxena, Chief Data Officer at Poshmark, describes their approach by saying, “Data has always driven decisions at Poshmark… We have the foundation of very centralized, reliable, and easy-to-access data, but then it’s delivered to all the teams. It allows for the data to be accessible to all the business users at the time of the decision.” This approach exemplifies how a centralized, integrated data strategy, driven by marketing data, can enhance decision-based strategy discussions across an organization.
Marketing as a Proxy for the Customer
A key aspect where marketing adds immense strategic value is in aggregating customer knowledge and serving as a proxy to the customer. This role is critical in fostering a customer-centric approach within organizations. Marketing not only gathers both behavioral data, such as how the customer interacts with messaging, offers, and product features, but it also tracks sentiment data, such as how the brand is portrayed on social media and other channels. Consumers with an emotional connection to a brand have a 306% higher lifetime value, stay with a brand for an average of 5.1 years vs. 3.4 years, and will recommend brands at a much higher rate (71% vs. 45%).
Product marketing and managers also conduct qualitative and quantitative customer interviews, providing additional information and nuance. 55% of consumers said they are not likely to continue being a customer of a company that ignores their feedback. In this way, marketing departments gain deep insights into customer preferences, behaviors, and needs. This intelligence is not just about understanding what customers are buying, but also why they make certain choices, how they interact with the brand, and what their pain points are.
This customer knowledge is invaluable in guiding product development, customer service, and overall business strategy. For instance, in product development, insights from marketing can help in tailoring products to better meet customer needs, thus increasing the likelihood of market success. In customer service, understanding customer expectations and feedback can lead to improved service offerings and customer satisfaction.
Marketing’s role as a proxy to the customer ensures that the voice of the customer is heard and considered in strategic decision-making processes. This approach helps organizations to be more customer-centric, aligning their operations and strategies with the evolving demands of their customer base. Being customer-centric is not just a strategic advantage but a necessity in today’s competitive business environment where customer loyalty and engagement are paramount.
Incorporating customer insights into strategic planning and execution enables companies to stay ahead of market trends, adapt to changing customer needs, and maintain a competitive edge. Marketing, by aggregating customer knowledge and serving as a proxy to the customer, plays a pivotal role in driving a customer-centric culture and strategy in organizations.
Delivering Strategic Business Results
Marketing plays a crucial role in delivering on the promise of any business strategy. Marketing’s role transcends organizational boundaries by communicating corporate direction, mobilizing individuals around the strategy, and executing campaigns, offers and experiences that drive sustainable growth.
“Marketing operations plays an important role in driving the marketing strategy to fruition and partnering with sales to contribute to revenue attainment” said Christina De Martini, VP, Research Director at Forrester.
Through targeted campaigns, brand positioning and cross-functional collaboration, marketing plays a crucial role in translating a company’s vision into actionable plans. Today’s marketing organizations must implement the mindset and systems needed to shift focus from outputs to outcomes in order to influence strategy and directly impact revenue.
Challenges to Redefining Marketing’s Value
Despite its strategic value, marketing continues to grapple with challenges, particularly in proving its return on investment (ROI) and aligning its efforts with overarching business objectives. As quoted in an article from Marketing Insider Group, “For decades, marketers have hidden behind the tacit acceptance that ‘half of the marketing we do is effective, we just don’t know which half.'” This uncertainty has persisted into the digital age, with a Demandbase study revealing that 71% of advertising campaigns fail to meet expectations, and 96% of digital marketers admitting that their advertising felt like a waste of money.
The complexity of measuring marketing ROI is compounded by the overwhelming nature of the process that the requisite skills for effective measurement, such as analytics, finance, and accounting, may not be the strong suit of many traditional marketers.
Utilizing AI and machine learning may help marketers deal with this skills gap and better contribute to overall business strategy. These tools may automate certain tasks and provide more precise and comprehensive analytics.
The evolution of marketing from a perceived cost center to a strategic value provider mirrors the transformation experienced by IT decades ago. As marketers continue to feel pressure to demonstrate their contributions to the bottom line, they must look to data, customers and operations to deliver strategic value in the organization. The continual evolution of consumer behaviors and market dynamics requires that marketing remains agile and adaptable, continually refining its strategies to stay aligned with business goals and customer needs.
Doing this will help shift the perception of marketing as a cost center to a critical driver of strategic value.