We live and work in a region where there are still relatively few marketers at executive board level. In fact, there are fewer marketing directors than HR directors. This may reflect the perception that HR – in its traditional role of controlling the workforce – is more deserving of a seat at the top table than those charged with promoting the business. If so, both parts of that perception are wrong. Companies need HR leaders attuned to the company’s promise to the market, and able to recruit and develop staff to deliver it. But they also need senior marketers; able to represent the consumer point of view at board level.
But what kind of marketers will fellow C-suite members take seriously? Charlotte Rogers, revealing the key results of a new study by UK trade magazine Marketing Week, asks what makes a modern marketing leader. Strategic vison and a natural story-telling ability? Mastery of data and customer championship? Motivator of diverse and inclusive teams?
When I talk to managing directors in Africa, their biggest criticism of marketing seniors seems to be a lack of commercial acumen. Marketers have a reputation of being good at activity, but not so hot on productivity.
The issue is not just local. Commenting on the global profession, Professor Mark Ritson of Melbourne Business School is forthright: “I remain convinced that most marketers don’t really understand gross margin and variable costs. They live in a bull***t bubble.”
So how can marketers rise to greatness? I must admit that looking for answers in Marketing Week’s ‘Anatomy of a Leader’ research was unrewarding. 600 UK marketers were sampled; but no opinions sought from senior colleagues in other disciplines.
To be fair, 86 percent of marketers questioned thought strategic thinking very important. And 74 percent did say that being commercially aware was fundamental to making a leadership contribution
But things went downhill from there. There was a lot of loose talk about admirable personality attributes like humanity and empathy; bravery and agility.
But relationship building came in a distant third, alongside people management and problem solving.
In my view, strong marketing directors should represent the bridge between businesses and their customers. They should use their unrivalled knowledge of the marketplace to challenge the complacency that often develops at senior levels in companies.
A senior marketer must also design creative action (in the widest sense of the word). He or she should be able to build teams with diverse expertise, outsourced and in house. Teams capable of addressing business weaknesses and seizing commercial opportunities.
Most of all, they must be accountable to fellow Board members.
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside