In The Trust Economy, Marketers Are Bankrupt

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It’s getting ugly for marketers. Too bad, because marketing is just starting to get good.

We have a major issue with marketing and it needs to get solved soon if our future it to be as bright as we hope. Bottom line: marketers need to prove the business impact of our work. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, the CEOs of our world do not believe that we are delivering on this concept. That is the sad (and, ultimately, very scary) news out of the Fournaise 2012 Global Marketing Effectiveness Program, which interviewed over 1,200 CEOs from across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Check out these data points from their press release, 70% of CEOs Admit They May Be Responsible for Marketers’ Poor Perceived Performance:

  • 80% of CEOs were not very impressed by the work done by Marketers and believed Marketers were poor business performers.
  • CEOs thought Marketers could not adequately prove the positive business impact their marketing activities.
  • CEOs thought Marketers had lost sight of what their job really was (i.e. to generate more customer demand for their products/services).
  • CEOS thought Marketers were not business performance-obsessed enough.
  • 70% of the same CEOs admitted they may be somewhat responsible for Marketers’ poor perceived business performance and reputation – but purely as a consequence of:

    a) Having steadily lost trust in Marketers’ business abilities; and b) Subsequently having given up on holding Marketers accountable.

It’s a tough report to read.

When you have a majority that looks like 70% – 80%, it should give pause for all of us evaluate just what, exactly, we’re trying to do – day in and day out. My view is this: marketing departments have liquidated themselves over the past two decades by focusing all of their energy on advertising and promotions. They have forgotten about the need for marketing 101 – the basics of the four Ps and the value that a well-rounded marketing department brings to an organization. We suddenly have revenue departments instead of marketing leading and nurturing the pricing strategy of the business. We suddenly have product managers instead of marketing leading the product development and placement. So, what’s left? You guessed it, just the promotion.

Doesn’t digital change everything?

Digital does change everything (at least from my perspective), but digital changes nothing if all a brand is doing is traditional marketing in new marketing channels. That isn’t to say that solving the digital marketing challenge will suddenly get the marketers a more respected chair in the c-suite, but this is massive opportunity for marketers because measuring, testing, optimizing and learning has never been as scientific and results-oriented as it is (and can) be in the digital channels. There’s the old saying, "fail faster," I believe that digital marketing allows a brand to not only fail faster, but to do it in a cost-effective way.

There’s something else.

On June 14th, 2012, Forbes ran a news item that may run counter to the findings above. Titled, CMO Tenure Hits 43-Month Mark, it reveals: "After the 2006 low point, CMO tenure jumped to 26.8 months in 2007, 28.4 months in 2008, 34.7 months in 2009, and 42 months in 2010 before reaching 43 months in 2011. So what’s behind the increase? ‘As always, there are likely a number of drivers behind the increased tenure number, but from our perspective, it is a positive trend that we would like to see continue,’ said Greg Welch, a consultant at Spencer Stuart, in an email. ‘Certainly industry consolidation (i.e. fewer employers) tends to drive this up a bit, as does a suppressed stock market where executives have significant equity in limbo. Additionally, I would like to think that the biggest factor is that today’s CMOs are being more thoughtful about how they win over the long haul. We actually spend significant time, particularly with new CMOs, to ensure that they get off to a fast start as building momentum early on is critical.’  The longer tenure, he said, is primarily a reflection of CMOs’ worth and impact on their companies."

What what what?

It doesn’t matter which data point you want to side with (the one that says that marketers are failing at the c-suite or the one that marketers have never been doing better because they’re keeping their jobs longer), what is important is that both items point to the same outcome: prove impact! There is no doubt that proving impact with traditional marketing can be somewhat ambiguous. Buying a bunch of ads can create awareness and even attention, but can we draw a direct line between our ads and the overall impact on the brand’s business? Much harder. Can digital save the day? I believe it can (and I know that I am not alone). What is required is both much more education within the marketing departments of the world (to better understand digital, measurement and analytics) and a shift in philosophy that marketing doesn’t need to be dominated by advertising. Marketers can win back the c-suite trust, so long as they’re willing do more real marketing, instead of simply focusing on the advertising (which is still important, it’s just not everything). Marketing is about economic value to the company, as my good friend, Kenneth Wong, always says. 

Can marketers win back this trust? What do you think?

(special thanks to Bryan Eisenberg for the inspiration. He sent me an email asking for feedback on his recent blog post, 70% of CEOs have lost Trust in Marketers. The topic was worthy of much more than a blog comment).


  1. I agree with the premise of your piece and can understand why trust in marketing has diminished but in the hands of the right marketing firm; there is no reason why trust in online marketing is not possible. Understandably marketing is no easy matter and is somewhat of a long winded process but there are now businesses available who offer a transparent service, work around the clock and side by side their clients and regularly report data results on a monthly basis. A few are ruining it for the rest of us but I personally do not understand why trust should not be there; the online platform is clearly the way to success and with the right assistance there is no reason why a business cannot achieve it without straining their budgets.

  2. The significant point in this that leaps out to me is that digital marketing should not be traditional marketing dressed in digital clothes. I feel that much of the business world is still to get its head around this principle, I can pick out examples particularly in the use of social media and mobile marketing, but really it extends through the business mindset. The internet has moved on over the last 10 years, yet so many still seem stuck in the belief that ‘internet marketing = website’ (plus a bit of SEO) and until they do get their heads into a different place, it will remain a challenge.

  3. Always love your posts, Mitch. This is a topic I’ve been thinking hard about for a while now. In short – it seems as though we’ve regressed a bit regarding measurement in light of the social media onslaught. “We have 3,000 Instagram followers! 378 people liked our latest picture of a cat!!!”. It’s certainly concerning. And anyone in the agency world has experienced a campaign that mostly satisfies the desire to win an award as opposed to achieving actual business results. While I’m the first person to recognize the real benefits of consumer conversations, brand engagement, personality-enforcing activities, etc., I’m worried that too many of us are not held accountable for pushing the needle on sales and revenues.
    Thanks again,

  4. I would bet the exact same pattern would emerge if you were just talking about the SEO portion of marketing as well. SEOs focused on short term gains, saw those, were rewarded, then the fall of so many sites ushered some out of business and others to redraw their plan. Now, many SEOs plan long term, thinking about the future. I think it will lead to longer campaigns for SEO companies, as well. Same idea.
    So … getting out of “bankruptcy” will be important – starting on the right foot from the beginning will help.

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