Helping Managers Understand

In marketing one of our greatest woes is that the managers from other parts of the company think we’re constantly blowing smoke. You know what I’m talking about. You discover a new fact about your customers, or you observe new statistics that support your position that the company should do X. Everyone else sees the same facts, but interprets them differently.

For example, let’s say the company launches a $2 Million Black Friday campaign, offering a 25% discount on your most expensive items. This discount cuts your margin from 70% to a whopping 45%. You gross $6 Million. Not a bad return – after margin and campaign costs, your company profits nearly $1 Million.

The problem is that when it comes time to plan the next year’s Black Friday campaign, the board members remember “sacrificing” $4 Million in combined discount and marketing dollars. They press you to come up with a great Black Friday campaign that doesn’t involve discounted products.

Where they see a fluke, you see statistics confirming your hypothesis. Where they see risk, you see opportunity.

And that is exactly what every negotiation between a marketing executive and the board comes down to. Everyone sees the same numbers, but you are trained to identify opportunity, and they are trained to count risk. They know that you readily spend money when you see opportunity. To curb your spending and reduce risk, they use your carefully analyzed statistics as a launchpad for a socratic discussion about the wisdom of offering discounts on Black Friday.

Welcome to marketing.

My point is not that the life of a marketing executive sucks. On the contrary, this distinct difference in paradigms (opportunity vs. risk) is a very healthy business dynamic. It keeps us accountable, and it forces them to explore new opportunities. But it does require some careful navigating on your part, if you’re going to be successful.

I have three helpful rules that, when followed, will drastically improve your ability to navigate this dynamic. These rules apply to anyone whose job title includes the word “marketing”. That includes consultants, directors, vice presidents, etc.

  1. Your responsibility as a marketing professional is to help identify the specific goals of the company, and to explore all the possible ways of reaching those goals. You should be a team player at all costs – not a rogue visionary who needs to be reigned in at every turn.
  2. Your plans should have strong metrics to show that they can accomplish the agreed-upon goals. If they do, and the board doesn’t see the value, then it’s your fault.
  3. You MUST look at every opportunity from the perspective of the board. That means you must count the risk, weigh the potentially negative consequences, and present your plan with the same objectivity.

This is a difficult concept to grasp. Daily you struggle to explain the value or need for an expense, and in your mind you probably grasp it firmly. But from the perspective of the board, you are simply jumping at every opportunity to justify your job. They think you’re blowing smoke only because they don’t understand your long-term strategy for meeting the company’s goals. You would do well to stop and walk them through your entire process of thinking. Start with the specific goals that have been set. Guide them step by step through your process when making a new plan.

I know, I’m talking about a “board” as if every marketing executive has to explain his plans to the board of directors. But this is not necessarily the case. In your company the “board” of which I speak could be you and the CEO in the break room. Whatever individual or group of people has to approve of your plans, will ultimately comprise your board.