The strategic marketing plan: the key to the boardroom

Peter Desmyttere
December 11, 2018
⏱ 4 min. read

Brussels, December 2018. It is quiet at our stand during the annual marketing congress of BAM (Belgian Association of Marketing), the highlight for Belgian marketers. While sipping my coffee, I read the messages on the Twitter wall, a LED screen that rises metres high above the stands. “We want to get the marketer back in the boardroom”, is a tweet that passes by. 

It reminds me of my participation at the Marketing Congress in Amsterdam a few weeks ago. At the time, the central argument was the diminishing influence of the marketer in the boardroom, where financial managers have a firm grip.

The question is: how do you get the value of the marketer within the organisation to such a level that he or she can help define the lines for the organisation and is not merely regarded as a creative department?

My answer: with more marketing strategy that will lead to tangible and reportable results. And where do those come together?

Right: the strategic marketing plan.

Marketing is losing the battle of the boardroom

It is striking how little impact the marketer has on the board. This became clear during the marketing congress in Amsterdam and was reinforced by the news (in Dutch) that the Dutch retailer HEMA would cut its management team in half, with the marketing director as one of the casualties. Marketers are therefore hardly part of the management team and are - if they reach the top - the first to be cut off. This is not a statement, but an evolution that has been going on for years.

Over the past 20 years I have worked as a marketer in large companies, had numerous consultations with CMOs and recently I have been working as a technology supplier for marketing teams. It has become a common theme in all these experiences: marketing taking orders of a management team of which she is not a member. Or, worse: she gets her budget allocated from finance, directs her actions to indicate sales and introduces her MarTech tools according to the logic of IT.

It could be different. Marketing is able to make brands and companies. In this hyper-competitive world, it can position brands more strongly against competitors and arm them permanently against crises and disruption. It is the engine for leads, sales and customer success. And it has the knowledge to innovate the business model when needed. But that is only theory. In practice, the figures, short-term thinking and the next quarter dominate the boardroom. And managers from the financial sector are far better at this. 

Marketing has not been a creative profession for a while

Marketers are still quite imposing themselves on the general public. In Cannes, for example, where the advertising prices are handed out. Or at Effie- and Marketeer of The Year Awards, where the sector itself (sic) pays tribute to its members. Lovely for a show, but when the dust falls, the value of the marketer in the boardroom has not increased. The board thinks in terms of strategy, vision, (shareholder) value, (quarterly) results or their competitive position.

Perhaps marketing should think more in terms of this logic. Not so much based on creativity and more based on strategy. Then it will at least be speaking the language of the board. Wouldn't that be a good starting point?

Marketing is a strategic profession. Period.

Marketing Manager, Head of Marketing, Marketing Director or CMO: they have a crushing responsibility to give the marketing profession the respect it deserves. Support them with knowledge and give them weapons to make themselves strategically stronger in the organisation.

Marketing is no longer a creative profession and it has to stop profiling itself like this. Creativity is (only) a part of marketing. Just like technology, organisation, communication, branding, research or analytics are. They all belong under one umbrella: the strategy of the brand or company.

Strategic management renders value

The fastest way for a marketer to gain respect in the organisation? Add value. Translate your marketing investments into results, into ROI. Which you, in turn, translate into value for the company. And finally: link marketing strategy to the strategy of the company or brand. 

Marketers who focus on merely operational planning, who are running from task to task, who try to meet deadline after deadline, have no influence in the boardroom. For them, those marketers are foot soldiers. But: the more they plan and measure, the faster they can move up in the marketing organisation. The minimum for every marketing team leader, CMO, Head of Marketing or Marketing Director should, therefore, be a streamlined task management and strict communication planning within the team, along with budget management and a professional dashboard with KPIs and proven marketing results (Return On Investment).

Criteria of a professional marketer

The final element for added value as a marketer is the strategic component. Can you translate the business strategy and business model of the brand or company into a 'market-oriented' business model? From a marketing strategic point of view, can you give directions for (shareholder) value, (quarterly) results or competitive position? Then you can get the attention of the board and get a voice in the boardroom. Are you not a one trick pony in this area but is it firmly embedded in your (future) approach as a marketer? Then, and only then, you have the key to the boardroom in your hands.

In the next article, I will dig deeper into the architecture of the strategic marketing plan. How do you get started? What components does it consist of? How do you write it down? And how do you report it across the organisation?

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