Over the long weekend, I had some time to reflect on last week’s post on how hard it is for organizations to keep high performers because they make magic. I’ve come to realize that making magic might actually be a career limiter. Never once in my career making magic have I thought that it could be holding me back. Reason being: magic is magic, and people in the C-suite don’t speak magic. They speak profit and loss. It is a common problem with marketers in our relationship with the C-suite. We do not speak the same language. So, it begs the question, is the magic a reason we are not elevating to the C-suite as quickly as other disciplines?
We’ve all read the reports that tell us that CEOs don’t trust marketers (unless they are marketers who measure). In fact, AdAge pointed out that in 2013, of the 9,800 board seats at Fortune 1000 companies, only 38 are held by CMOs. And I am relatively sure that the number hasn’t grown 60 fold in the last two years. So, could it be the magic? Let’s explore some of the ways conjuring is holding us back.
The language problem
Magic doesn’t translate well to CEOs. The language of CEOs is very black and white. Did we turn a profit? Did we increase sales? Have we grown shareholder value? These are numbers-driven questions. They’re scientific. CEOs and CMOs do not speak the same language. When we are talking with CEOs, we are talking about messaging and brand. We talk about campaigns and creative. Things that are far more gray. And in marketing, it is a blend of art and science. And we’ve been talking art for a long time. The CEO wants the science. They want the math. If we want to get a seat at the table with the C-suite, we need to start framing our conversations in black and white and avoid the gray. When we talk about brand, marketing, advertising, we have to learn to frame it on the language of profit and loss. And if you go back to the study mentioned earlier, these are the marketers who’ve earned the CEO’s trust and a seat at the table.
The measurement problem
Because art has been the side of the marketing equation we have all become more comfortable with, we have ignored the science; this is our biggest folly. Because our magic just might be too mystical for the C-suite. As we learn to speak their language, that includes their KPI. Until we embrace their KPI and find ways to talk in terms that they understand, we will not have a seat at the table. And when we try to introduce new KPI, we look untrustworthy. We have to master their KPI and make them relevant for our discipline. We need to talk about cost per acquisition, not engagement. We need to talk about cost per lead, not organic reach. Talk about the sales funnel. Unless we talk about black and white KPI that roll up to profit and loss, we will not matter to the C-suite. And we should matter to the C-suite.
The irony is this: We are the group most frequently charged with growth. However, the group that is most frequently charged with growth is also viewed as a cost center. This is not how it should work. We need to be creating real metrics that show that our work actually worked in terms of driving growth, sales, and market share. The rest is magic, which, in this case, is a career limiter, something none of us aspire to.
Our goal at SME is to teach marketers to be business rock stars. We do this because we want to see more marketers in the C-suite and on corporate boards. We believe in the profession and the impact it can have on a company. We just need to learn the language and get committed to measuring our efforts so we can transition from cost center to profit center. It actually might be possible, but we have to start.