Is marketing in trouble?

John Wiltshire, president and CEO of the CMA, explains how to ensure your work remains valuable for your company.

By John Wiltshire

A recent North American and British study from Gartner verifies that marketing’s share of company revenue dipped to 10.5% in 2019, well below the five-year average of 11.1%. Meanwhile, I read that Pepsi’s stock price was up significantly as increased advertising positively impacted beverage consumption. Regardless of our view of the role of marketing in our collective future, one thing is for sure: marketing investment decisions are no longer taken lightly, which means that there is a greater expectation of measurable impact from that spending.

From my perch as president and CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association, and from my decades of experience in marketing roles, I have some strong opinions on what needs to improve if we are to prove the benefit of marketing for the long-term success of an enterprise.

Know what you are trying to improve

I am astonished when I speak to a senior marketer who favours one tactic over others. I heard someone comment that they “like TV and Google search.” Say what? Obviously, it is important to be aware of the problems associated with each platform, but thinking strategically means tailoring the media mix to the business problem you are trying to address and the change you want your audience to make. Is your problem related to awareness or consideration, or is it further down the funnel?

Invest over time to achieve the improvement

We sometimes forget that our core role is communication and persuasion, and this takes a steady hand over time. Nothing perturbs me more than hearing that a company increased spending in one year, only to dramatically scale back the next. Marketing is not a discretionary expense, and it takes time to produce results. We can’t simply pull down the lever in bad times and push it up when times are good. On a brand I worked on in the past, we were able to increase brand consideration by 50%, but it took more than two years of investment and some great creative. That is not a result we would have achieved if we had taken a “feast or famine” approach.

It’s about impact, not your own self-actualization

I’m speaking to CEOs here, who have two choices: spend tons of money, or spend less and take some chances on creative. Let’s be real: to permeate consumers’ instinctive, busy environments and persuade them to make a rational decision, a device is needed, be it humour, emotion or just the element of surprise. I once had a discussion with a CEO who said that he wanted “his” ads to be nice and positive, because that was how he was. It was almost like he was trying to market a cologne named after himself. Honestly, get out of the way.

Now I’ll turn my attention back to CMOs. When talking to your CEO, stop using internal metrics such as “impressions” and “share of voice.” CEOs are more familiar with financial KPIs related to share price and earnings growth. I bumped into a highly respected CEO of a very large company in the airport and commended him on his recent brand relaunch. He was obviously proud of it, but he had to trot out the fact that they got 20% more “impressions” than they originally thought they would get. He is missing the point. More and more CEOs and CFOs are, and should be, demanding that their head marketers prove the worth of marketing through attribution and ROI metrics. I know this is tough to do on the top end of the funnel, but it’s well worth the time spent.

Find the best talent in the right places

Thankfully, according to a recent study by Ipsos, Vizeum, CMA and strategy, the trend of bringing creative talent in-house is moving back the other way. We all know that the old agency of record, fee-for-service approach is being redefined and there are some good reasons to do certain things internally, particularly for some scale operations that can be done more efficiently from the inside. But c’mon. You hire creative agencies because they have expertise on innovative technologies and solutions. Plus, you need someone to challenge your often-less-than-perfect ideas. Having been through the creative process on some campaigns with a strong partner, I know the value of a different mirror. Specialization is a good thing.

If you are worried about expenses, get your agencies to put some skin in the game. Performance-based contracts are a brilliant way to link marketing to results.

The purpose of the Canadian Marketing Association is to build trust in the power of marketing to transform business. As a profession, it is imperative that we are measurably transformative. That is the best way to keep marketing in business.

John Wiltshire is president and CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association.