Chief Marketing Officer, Zebra Technologies www.zebra.com.
When times are tough and budget cuts are warranted, the marketing function can sometimes take one of the biggest hits. With a sizable discretionary budget, it can be a natural target for short-term spending reductions. And some believe it will be less disruptive to the overall business to pause marketing programs than to halt research and design (R&D), business development, sales or support activities.
We all agree you can’t drive business growth if you aren’t creating sources of incremental revenue. And you can’t expand revenue without a strong portfolio of products, aggressive sales effort and happy customers. However, it’s going to be difficult to increase awareness of your offerings, much less prove their value in a way that piques buyers’ interest, if you don’t have a steady cadence of marketing programs.
If you just step out of the market — and your brand isn’t consistently visible across events, social media and the internet as a whole — then you’re going to lose mindshare and leads by the minute. Word-of-mouth referrals will only reach as far as a customer’s network, which, even for the largest brands, isn’t as large as one might think. And stale messaging will immediately reduce the relevance of your brand and solutions among potential customers. You must preserve your digital presence, perhaps even more so than your physical presence, if you want your business to persevere in challenging times.
So, if the business environment causes you to pause marketing programs in order to reduce operating expenses (opex), make sure your C-suite understands the impact of those cuts in financial terms so that those activities can be reactivated as soon as possible. Otherwise, those marketing budget cuts could end up costing your business more in the long term than it stands to save in the short term.
Proving Marketing’s Strategic Function To The C-Suite
For the marketing profession to survive and thrive during financially challenging periods, it must be positioned within your organization as a revenue driver versus a support function, which is how many have traditionally viewed marketing. I started my career as an engineer, and I can tell you that not all companies clearly communicate the value of marketing and how it can be strategically utilized.
Once I became a chief marketing officer (CMO), I had full visibility into the analytics and could start to help others connect the dots between marketing and sales, marketing and engineering, marketing and human resources to see that marketing isn’t just serving as a cheerleader for the company — it’s quarterbacking many growth-centric activities. Marketing directly influences revenue in multiple ways and requires the harmonious execution of many different digital, vertical and solution-based programs across internal and external communications channels. While cutting spending in marketing may be the right thing to do in the short term, it may come with negative implications to the business, so it’s essential to educate and promote marketing to the C-suite as a strategic function that is essential to the growth of the company.
Of course, it may take some time to build credibility for marketing and secure the support needed to protect and even prioritize continued investments in marketing, especially in tough times. I can tell you from personal experience that it is possible. Here are the three things to keep in mind when making the case for marketing as a strategic function:
1. Understand your audience and ensure you are speaking their language.
If you want to capture the attention of the CEO, CFO and others making budget decisions, you need to talk about the impact the function and its programs have on the profit and loss (P&L) statement rather than search engine optimization (SEO), top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel data, display ads and retargeting. You should also benchmark spending to ensure proper levels of funding are understood.
2. Articulate both the qualitative and quantitative impacts of marketing to prove its business relevance.
When marketing is asked to contribute to budget cuts, it’s important to educate the C-suite about potential business impacts. Show how marketing can directly impact revenue generation. This won’t necessarily prevent the cuts, but it can help ensure smart cuts are made and that paused activities are prioritized for reactivation when funding becomes available.
Remember, to drive growth, you need a marketing team dedicated each day to evolving your brand and messaging and ensuring they reach the right people at the right time. Prospective customers, even current customers, are on digital platforms daily, learning about your products and comparing you to others in terms of your messaging and what you can do for them. They are trying to figure out why they should choose your company and solutions. If your messaging is weak or stale or, worse, nowhere to be found, then you are likely going to lose sales.
When educating the C-suite, leverage data such as marketing qualified leads and the more obscure numbers related to brand and product discovery — the volume of website traffic generated, the click-through rate for emails and ads, along with organic social media interactions — to demonstrate marketing’s value.
3. Map out the ‘buyer’s journey’ like you would for an external audience.
If you want marketing to be accepted as a trusted partner and advisor to the C-suite and other strategic business functions, you must understand what R&D/engineering, product management, sales, channel, supply chain, finance and human resources care about. Show how marketing enables each functional team to achieve their target goals by communicating how minimum-viable (always-on) activities impact outcomes. Advocate for continued investment in activities that you believe will deliver the highest return so that if budget cuts are needed, they are made through smart, informed decisions.
In closing, you don’t necessarily need fully vetted attribution models in hand in order to demonstrate marketing’s value in driving business growth. You just need to educate your C-level leaders on how the business will benefit if they prioritize and preserve certain marketing activities right now and the traction that could be lost if they don’t.
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