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CEOs Don’t Trust Marketing – What’s The Solution?

Month after month there’s increasing data showing us that marketing people don’t plan or measure enough. Our own Smart Insights survey broadcast to 40,000 marketers saw 69% admitting that there is no digital marketing strategy in their current role. It’s the same story here where only 46% have a content marketing strategy and this in-depth McKinsey study.

It appears that we’re quick to dive into solutions, new techniques, tactics and channels – but we lack the over-arching strategic thinking necessary to optimize for success. The good news is, this is a choice, and we can make different choices.

CEOs don’t trust marketing

Worse, a recent survey by Fournaise Group in London highlights that senior executives don’t believe the marketing function demonstrates objective commercial thinking, with 73% of CEOs stating “marketers lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient growth”. 80% of CEOs simply don’t trust marketers at all, while 91% do trust CIOs and CFOs. Ouch. Though is it a surprise if the marketing function is, in some volume, admitting it lacks the necessary plans and strategy?

The three challenges

We’ve been discussing it within our own organization and have realized what we believe are the three common challenges:

1. Commercial Disconnect – Marketers need to take responsibility for the very evident commercial disconnect with senior executives. It’s not good enough to think that the ultimate decision makers do not understand marketing in their organization, that this is their issue. It may well be, and yet it’s crucial that this is bridged and that perspectives are shared, if only to keep your job.

2. Distraction, hoopla and hyperbole – the ever-evolving world of marketing, due in large to technology and a now very connected consumer, brings with it new marketing opportunities on a monthly basis. Too many “next big things”, promises and chasing what’s shiny and new introduces a real paradox of choice. Yet, it’s not the new that should concern us, it’s what matters to the customer. And of course, a rigorous evidence based trial and testing for opportunities that are relevant – ‘lean marketing’ we might say.

3. Lack of imagination and innovation. Marketing is about imagination, creating new ways to deliver a value to the customer, to earn disproportionate attention over trying to steal it with short-termism and promotionally led thinking. It’s sad to see so few case studies where our industry can hail genuine visionary or intuitive thinking. For such a creative profession, where’s the volume of innovation that’s most evident in start-ups or conversely the super brands?

Seven keys to success in 2014?

It’s a fairly simple answer if not a big commitment. It’s certainly not a question of complexity or difficulty. It is hard work, commitment, persistence, focus and requiring time from your team. Here are seven ideas we hope can help:

1. Create a plan that integrates digital marketing

Of course this is the start of it. Without a plan we’ll fill our time with what we like, want, think our boss wants or with reactions to external factors. There are many models, such as PR Smith’s SOSTAC, to act as planning frameworks. Planning in silos, especially channel planning integrated after the event is sure to serve a disconnected team.


Appreciate that there is also no one plan in isolation if you want to align a team and business. A summarized hierarchy of plans that translate and inform business objectives (upwards) as well as the highly tactical business-as-usual marketing will galvanize a team (downwards), and getting a business to have a shared vision and understanding is surely the secret to success?

Marketing Planning Hierarchy

2. Develop a consistent and relevant brand story

A best-in-sector approach to marketing means that a considered hierarchy of messages are consistent across all brand touch-points, that all content shares a common story, that all platforms work hard to at least support a common online value proposition. The maturing of this mission is more than consistently branded content, that’s obvious, it’s about consumer touch-points and mapping brand communications in a relevant way, thinking about the customer first and not what you want to say.

inbound marketing funnel

There are a myriad of models to enable the creation of a brand that knows what it is, who it serves and where it’s going. The Business Model Generation canvas is one such model, one that also serves to connect the brand, to marketing and the wider business.

The Business Model Canvas

3. Create value: design marketing that serves someone

I initially called this point ‘Customer focus’, but I realize that in 2014 we need to be more specific. Knowing and focusing on your audience is obvious, what isn’t obvious is designing your marketing to actually serve your customers. With the proliferation of branded content, there’s significant noise in your market and a likelihood of you creating any kind of meaningful cut-through is going to be difficult. Even where you have access to email, the increasingly time-starved consumer has a simple question – why should they care? Answer this for them by designing branded content and communications that serve them, not you. Start by understanding where your brand motivations overlap with those of your customer – what are the pain points or unmet needs?

Developing New Ideas for Marketing

It’s not all serious, more often than not your marketing, in the form of branded content, can exist to entertain, educate, inspire or convince. Our ‘Content Matrix’ is designed to remind of this and offer ideas and inspiration.

marketing matrix

4. Plan to innovate and re-imagine

A number of brands do excellent work using the 70-20-10 model use by Coca-Cola, the goal is simply to recognize that marketing innovation has a longer term horizon where testing new ideas (the figure 10 in 70-20-10) is useful to inform the eventual day-to-day marketing (the figure 70). This plan to imagine and evolve is how Dell or Red Bull realize projects such as Stratos, and how Lynx (Axe in some countries) integrate their creative so well across multiple channels. It takes real imagination though; the award winning Dove Real Beauty campaign shows us this challenge as well as the potential reward.

5. Set manageable objectives and KPIs

A simple but crucial difference lies between goals and objectives, whereas goals are broad aspirations of success, objectives are specific. If you want to manage expectations then objectives must be measurable, specific and time-bound and where possible have relatable KPIs to manage specific channels, see below. Make no mistake though, plans that anchor only to KPIs can only ever facilitate marginal improvements in that channel or from a fixed perspective – they need to anchor to bigger objectives too if your aim is to integrate your marketing and drive compounded benefits.

measure reach act convert engage

6. Set and maintain a strategy (the most important step!)

define a strategy before tactics

Strategy sets apart the planning minded from the doing minded, leaders from followers and super successful from, well, the average. Strategy creates direction and differentiation from competitors instead of ‘group-think’, it offers context for ideas and imagination, it frees people to own and think for themselves and connects marketing to commercials. It is that important.

The 5 Major Elements of Strategy

Taking the time and space to think about how those goals will be met is not easy. Data and insights will offer ways to interpret and define opportunity; it cannot pave the way. I believe this is why strategy is ignored – it’s hard work and there is little harder than deciding what you will stop doing. One of the most useful models is ANSOFF, and to get a team thinking about strategy in this way can offer a real eureka moment – illustrating why strategy is so important, especially for teams with limited and potentially liberated resources.


7. Optimise, optimize, optimize…

Great, you have plan, a strategy even – and you’re not done, you never are – so celebrate it – it’s why someone of your immense talent has a job! Employing an agile or lean methodology enables you to improve regularly instead of leaving weeks, months or years between improvements.


Do you have a test and learn culture? If not, is it time to adopt one. Here’s a simple model:

test learn refine

Take strategic planning seriously

The take-away here is to take marketing planning seriously, as an important business function, if you in turn want to be taken seriously at the boardroom table. Our seven keys to success are here only to inspire thinking where you already know you’re weakest. Without doubt the most important challenge to overcome is the disconnect with senior management by creating a marketing strategy, it enables marketing to speak a business language, to be understood and respected, and to galvanize a team.

What do you think – what would you question or add to our list?

About the Author: Danyl Bosomworth is co-founder of marketing portal and UK digital marketing agency

  1. B.J. Mendelson Nov 26, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Not for nothing, but it’s one thing to generically refer to the hype and the hoopla as a problem, and it’s another to encourage our fellow marketers to start calling out the bullshitters generating that hype and hoopla to further their own financial agenda. And make a mess for the rest of us.

    If you want your CEO to start taking marketing seriously, you need to start calling out the Seth Godins, Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan, and Gary Vaynerchuks of the world.

  2. In my opinion it comes down to having the data to justify marketing expenses. With digital marketing you should be able to track everything and show how your strategy and tactics lead directly to revenue and a positive ROI.

    If you have the numbers it’s difficult for senior management to argue your value.

    • Agreed – and more than that – data creates shared understanding and confidence to try something new. There’s a positive / optimistic perspective as well as being able to ‘manage upwards’?

  3. Matthew Woodward Nov 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I had that problem when I was employed in corporate life.

    Shouldn’t have to convince the people that hired you to let you do the job they pay you to do.

    Enough was enough!

    So I quit and did it myself.

    • I’ve found both happened when I worked in a major PLC. Informing and managing was my duty to them and the shareholders, and there comes a point when you ask “why”, when you may realise people don’t really want to understand. I pulled the rip chord at that point too :-)

    • I’m in that situation right now. You hit the nail on the head: shouldn’t have to convince the people who hired you to do the thing they hired you to do. Almost like you’ve been hired just to be the subject of their suspicion. Meantime, your itch to show your real craft keeps burning, unsatisfied. Goodness, is quitting the only way to go?

  4. Danyl. Great article, and kudos to your infographic guys! I think the primary disconnect between marketers and CEOs is that of your second point – distraction and hoopla. It’s difficult to run a company without a solid (at least) 6 month plan for what goals you want to reach and how you’ll reach them. Yet, in digital marketing (as you briefly mentioned) we engage in this unbalanced dance in which we’re constantly altering our next step: Are we going to invest in Facebook Ads? Do I need to spend the next two weeks a/b testing my landing pages because we updated a tool? Are we cutting back on blogging because our content marketers want to do webinars? Do we have a good enough camera for video? Etc, etc. – the minutea are endless. At least these are my frustrations. Do you think a solid marketing calendar/plan really fixes this disconnect between a traditionally-minded CEO and a frenetic digital marketer?

    • Hi – I do James. It’s about gaining respect and giving confidence. Opening what may feel like a “black box” of ever changing marketing stuff to those in business management is powerful. The more you create shared understanding, the more you can take colleagues on a journey that they willingly want to take, the better? I am not saying it is easy. I have found that where I can translate business objectives into marketing KPIs, I give power back to senior management to understand and feel like they can have input.

  5. Gustavo Corral Nov 27, 2013 at 11:28 am

    This only works for retail or products like it. For many other products ( e.g. enterprise software, mechanical cranes, etc. ) you are trying to find a few decision makers in a population of 300M. These decision makers do not go about announcing themselves by searching for “mechanical cranes” etc. Some do not even know there is a product or service that solves their problem. And the feedback that you would want to collect to iterate on your product or address a concern from them is more than click/no-click.
    For these situations, marketing and the Internet provide no advantage. Let’s see why :
    1) broad based marketing => suffers from the needle-in-the-haystack problem.
    2) narrowcasting through trade journals ? Helps, but again, no feedback – can’t close the marketing loop so forget about nice metrics. Also : not every engineer is looking for a crane right now, again reducing targeting.

    Targeting, metrics, etc. one by one, start kissing your toolkit & buzzwords goodbye. Just pick up the damn phone and start selling bc the Internet won’t sell for you.

    • Great point made Gustavo, I concur in regard to a healthy focus on what needs to be done to make the sale – and that the channel is not the point. I’d challenge you on ‘picking up the phone’ and it’s done, I wish it were that simple. I worked several years in B2B myself, especially software. I’d suggest this answer is about considering the sales and marketing funnel, how can you earn attention from those buyers when they’re not looking to buy, where are they and how do you serve them via marketing, way in advance of needing to sell. Content is the ‘tool’ of course, a means to data capture and profile, to open up the relationship for sales over time. Great examples come online everyday.

  6. Andreea Luciana Ostache Nov 28, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    My only concern with marketing is that most people mistake Sales with Marketing, or do not understand the Marketing concept altogether.

    Marketers exist to gather data, about everything and everyone, about people, economic factors, technology, cares and needs, politics and competition, etc. and project everything in a perspective of the world past, now and future, to be able to put on paper where the company was, is and should be, why and how.
    The Sales Department only has to sell the product or service, to reach the target.

    When goals are not reached, it is a joint failure of both Marketing and Sales. Marketing because, perhaps, they did not “see” the future correctly and Sales because they failed get to that future.

    In my opinion, if you have a good Marketing manager, your business is set for success. If you have one that talks big but does little, it can very well drag the business to bankruptcy and, this is why, I believe that CEO are “scared” of Marketing, rather than not trusting them. It is just too much at stake to base it on trust. Hence the tons of reports and paperwork required.

  7. I agree. You need your CEO to understand the how and why of your marketing strategy. Marketing is a form of communication. What does it say about our ability to communicate to the customer if we aren’t capable of communicating to our executives? Yes, there is a sea of minutia that needs to be managed for digital… well, actually any type of marketing, but that is why we prioritize. We need to make sure that internal communication tactics are in the list of day to day tactics that we are constantly prioritizing. CEO’s are a lucrative market segment. You will be more successful at marketing for your company if you can get your CEO’s engaged. Plus, if your CEO’s understand and support your end goal, they are less likely to bring you “pet” projects, you know the kind that eat up time and resources in an “off brand” kind of way. :)
    So in the end, yes they hired you, but they hired you to make them better.

  8. Rafal Kochanowicz Dec 03, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Great article ! The real problem here may be that “everybody knows marketing” !/?
    Like everybody knows medicine. In any case little bit of googling will do the job. Your average CEO or even CFO “knows” marketing.
    There’s a saying that: “little knowledge is dangerous”.

  9. excellent article Danyl Bosomworth thank you! It comes at the perfect time, my company is currently re-branding including a completely brand new logo. “strategy creates direction and differentiation” this will resonate with me forever!

  10. Really great insight. One of the more genuine “marketing advice” pieces I have read in a while. Definitely sharing and saving for future reference.

  11. Gianluigi Cuccureddu Jan 02, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Aren’t we forgetting something very important?

    From a system-thinking perspective nothing can be derived back to a single cause.
    If marketers are great in solutions but not the overarching integration in corporate strategy etc etc, what can be accounted to the CEO/CMO for causing that?

    It’s a two-way challenge.

  12. Justin McGill Feb 06, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Such a powerful use of images here. This is such a problem in the digital marketing arena in particular. ESPECIALLY if you claim to be an “SEO”. You have to position yourself as a creative thinker just as much as anything else these days. Strategy is such a critical piece to the digital marketing puzzle.

  13. that is too complicated

  14. Without marketing, they can’t increase sales!

  15. Sohail Qaisar Mar 01, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Nice question! But I think marketing is very important for CEOs :)

  16. WOw Wow Wow… Danyl, great job and thanks for this thesis to let me know so many thing, which I wasn’t aware of, but now I’m, after reading your this great article.

  17. Wow this is one of those ‘keeper’s’ for future backlinking. I’m about 6 months past idea generation and in the services implementation stage following the back of the lost lady in front of me. I’ve recently been utillizing SEO tools but not until after reading this article will I use these tools to not only measure my parameters and define metrics, goals, but also to compare these numbers to the industry leaders, losers, and of course, myself! I’ll now be able to execute an action-packed strategy once I’m done planning!


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