May 11, 2022
May 11, 2022
A recent Harvard Business Review article begins by explaining that “Pundits have long predicted the demise of traditional advertising. However, it is alive and well and headed for growth for the first time in a decade.” The article goes on to note that a shift is in progress despite the fact that digital marketing technologies have been an increasing part of marketing budgets in recent years.
The authors gave many reasons for the predicted upward spend in traditional advertising versus digital, including consumer frustration with digital advertising clutter, likely changes to the advertising landscape in anticipation of the death of third-party cookies, and the resurrection of direct mail and the QR code.
As a seasoned marketer for well over four decades, I had to read the article several times to make sure I got it right. How confusing must this be to corporate directors? Many board members have backgrounds in finance, accounting, or law. What is often lacking is marketing expertise about trends and market disruptors external to the company that might affect future performance or, at the very least, a seasoned marketing executive among their ranks who can explain the issues to them. And that is why you need a seasoned marketer on the board.
The business environment is constantly changing. So too is the marketing that must keep up with that change. For those with proficiencies elsewhere and otherwise not as well versed in marketing, keeping up can be a challenge. But it is not just the tactical pieces that are important; it is the strategy and the soul of the brand themselves that must resonate both inside and outside the hallways of a company’s offices. This is also what marketing brings to the company and the board.
CEOs of public companies have historically recognized the importance of a strong marketing leader to communicate the soul of the brand. These leaders are able to distill, define, connect, and communicate its essence, values, purpose, and authenticity to desired audiences. Together with a company’s CEO, and with single-mindedness, marketing leaders articulate the soul and purpose of the company or brand and more importantly, the relevance to those it seeks to serve. They deliberately focus on the most important initiatives that tie to that purpose—and communicate them with acts and deeds—not just words. As a result, marketing leaders are able to influence others and to build credibility and revenue in the marketplace.
The most successful brands and companies focus on their soul, essence, values, purpose, and authenticity. Consider Virgin Group’s statement of purpose and the vision you have in your head of the company, its founder, and its products as you read it: “Virgin’s purpose is to change business for good and it is the very reason we exist. It is the lens through which we make all our decisions. Our values are what keep our people, products, and partners on the right path to achieve our purpose while providing incredible experiences.”
This statement of purpose is reinforced by Virgin founder Richard Branson, who in 2017 said, “Embedding purpose into your business will help it to stand out and align it with customers who have the same values.”
Or take, for example, The Body Shop, founded in 1976 by Dame Anita Roddick who believed that business could be a force for good and that beauty was an outward expression of everything you like about yourself, what makes you feel good.
Then as now, The Body Shop is more than a beauty brand. It has purpose—profit and principles working in harmony. Its doors are painted green not by chance. The company prides itself on ethically sourced and naturally based ingredients, products sold in refillable packaging, and beauty rituals that make every women feel good in their own skin. As Dame Anita Roddick once said, “Social and environmental dimensions are woven into the fabric of the company itself. They are neither first nor last among our objectives, but an ongoing part of everything we do.”
Both Branson and Roddick are brilliant examples of passionate, authentic entrepreneurs and inspirational leaders. In addition, they understood the importance of being supported by seasoned marketers able to propel their sense of purpose and communicate the soul of their companies’ brands both internally to the employee base (and ambassadors of the brand) and externally to clients, customers, prospects, and the public at large. Their marketing teams immersed themselves in the translation of the soul of the brand into marketing initiatives that were not just words, but demonstrations of actions.
Those are the initiatives that must be embraced and supported by the board as well. The board should have a complete understanding of the marketing team’s contributions, whether their initiatives deliver as promised, and funding for those initiatives making the most impact. Today’s seasoned marketing leaders are businesspeople who speak the language of the board, with hard skillsets in accounting, finance, operations, and technology. They are there to help all stakeholders keep up with dynamic change, understand newer market disruptors, and position the company for an upward revenue trajectory.
Board members must assess their company’s prospects and think about the soul of their brand, the company’s purpose and authenticity, and, yes, marketing—both in the CEO’s inner circle and in the boardroom.
Paula Zirinsky is cofounder and chief strategist of Structura Strategy Group, a professional services marketing advisory.
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