Businesses need to know their customers better than ever in order to compete.
It’s well known that the customer experience is regarded as the primary basis of differentiation in a world where over 80% of the buying journey happens online and most organizations. Most board are pushing their CEOs to move into recurring revenue models – via subscription, SaaS or cloud based business models – where growing customer lifetime value is the primary focus of the business.
Nobody should know the customer better than the head of marketing. In most organizations they control digital channels where most customer engagement happens. They manage customer analytics to interpret that data. They manage market research and intelligence to understand customer needs and market trends. They are responsible for building brand preference with customers.
The marketing discipline trains managers to understand and assimilate customer drivers and client behavior. The practice of marketing teaches executives to build product and service-based foundations and delivery systems, backed up by technology, support, and service models.
In all, the head of marketing controls more of the levers of growth and value creation than any other executive in your business, according to an analysis in the book Revenue Operations.
Nevertheless, the number of marketers serving as directors on Fortune 1000 company boards remains surprisingly low: Research from Spencer Stuart finds that under fifty of the thousands of public company board seats are currently occupied by marketing leaders.
That is about the change.
The perceived value of a marketer on a company board is on the rise, especially one with a quantitative bent and a digital-first mentality. The insights, input, and experience provided by marketers are unmissable and undeniable.
As an experienced marketer, strategist, transformation expert, advisor, and board member, I can attest to the critical role marketers can and should play on boards. In a time of customer-centricity, and with the next digital trend seemingly a click away, marketer expertise has increasing value to corporate boards. Bringing a marketer on board can yield real results.
One big factor is the fact that the role of marketing has evolved in the past few decades. I see it in the arc of my experience of having been a marketer back to my time in the auto industry, around 25 years ago. At that time, marketing was very much advertising, it was loyalty, customer acquisition, CRM, and direct mail — that’s how most people think of marketing.
Today, I think we have evolved into a customer experience-informed digital era which has completely transformed business. I currently hold the title of Chief Marketing and Experience Officer, and I think the latter trumps the former in terms of its hierarchy. Experience should inform all aspects of marketing, digital, communications, research, et al, in my opinion. Marketing cannot be effective until the customer and their experience, current and optimal, is well understood. When I say experience, I mean understanding the customer’s journey before they even think of your brand — you have to understand that impetus all the way through to when they are “done” with your experience or product. This will give you a better understanding of how your strategy should evolve and how you can differentiate yourself. Innovation comes from that perspective as well — it’s only possible when you get out of that myopic box that begins and ends with the interaction with your brand.
From a board perspective — I have had the pleasure of working in many industries, B2C and B2B — from automotive to technology to retail. Customer is king in every one of these industries. Understanding their experience end-to-end is pivotal. Now with technology, it’s easier to do so, and it’s even easier to measure where you are lacking. On a board, these insights are crucial. If boards think about supporting their executive team with a traditional marketing mindset, the revenue and growth unlock could be missed. More progressive Boards are seeing marketing as central to driving insights and strategic influence, in order to gain strategic alignment about where the company is going. Without a marketer at the table, a board runs the risk of only having a rudimentary conversation about brand strategy, customer insights, e-commerce, or digital innovation.
There are some clear-cut advantages that marketers bring to boards. The first is that “been there, done that” perspective on various tactics like rebranding initiatives, strategic partnerships, and sources of customer insight. The second is that we are able to dig into that quantitative rigor that helps drive product performance. Marketers can have tremendous data-informed instincts about products and the drivers that influence performance. Lastly, we are able to bring a great deal of sensitivity to the board — consumer perspective, anticipating stakeholder-related consequences and more. This consumer-centric outlook helps guide the board toward a more effective contribution in consumer and marketing-related discussions, and well-informed decisions.