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Is marketing becoming overloaded?

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I was not surprised to see that The Future of Creativity finds that 83% of brand and agency marketers agree that they are struggling to manage a growing workload. But is there more to this finding? Is marketing becoming synonymous with brand and advertising? And what does that imply for marketing effectiveness?

Marketers never did control all the growth levers
To get a bearing on whether marketers today were being asked to take on more responsibilities I started with the CMO survey which was first run in 2008. The survey interviews marketing leaders across a broad range of for-profit U.S. companies. Reading the inaugural report, an important finding stood out,

"Areas often described as marketing, including pricing, distribution, market selection, and innovation were not controlled by marketers in more than half the firms studied."

So, the majority of marketers were not responsible for some of the most important growth levers, and that is a problem because,
  • Pricing power has a stronger impact on future profits than sales volume
  • Without good distribution, sales will fall short of their full potential
  • Market selection is likely to have more impact on firm performance than fighting for market share
  • Innovation is a more important long-term growth driver than advertising
Advertising is most effective when it works in synergy with these other fundamentals, and without effective coordination, may well prove far less effective than it could be.

And guess what? The situation has not got any better since 2008. Marketers are even less likely to command some of the most important levers affecting sales and profit.

Ten-year changes in marketing responsibilities
To examine changes in marketing responsibilities over the longer-term, I compared CMO survey results from 2011 and 2013 with 2021 and 2023. I combined the results from each pair of surveys to make the comparison more reliable. Some of the changes reported here could be due to the changing nature of the businesses represented in the survey, but it is not obvious that this is so. There has been a general rise in the number of companies reporting a high proportion of sales through the Internet, but not necessarily the nature of the firms represented. Remember, the CMO survey covers a diverse set of companies, so some of the percentages reported may be low simply because an item does not apply to all companies. The following are my topline findings.

Core responsibilities include brand, advertising, and promotion
No surprises here. However, it is notable that the percentage of CMOs claiming responsibility for brand has risen from third-ranked at 83% to first-ranked at 93%. And digital marketing, which was not itemized in the earlier surveys, jumps in equal to advertising at 92%.

Arguably, digital marketing is simply an adjunct to traditional advertising, but as we all know, it is a different and complex ballgame. Intriguingly, The Future of Creativity suggests most advertisers believe they are thriving when it comes to delivering the short-term performance where digital marketing excels, but the majority say they are struggling when it comes to building long-term brand equity. Perhaps this is why the CMO Survey finds an average of 60% of the marketing budget is spent on short-term performance and 40% on long-term brand building, even when CMOs consider the ideal split to be closer to 50/50.

Marketers are even less likely to command important growth levers
As noted above, the percentage of CMOs reporting responsibility for important growth levers was fairly low in 2008. Well, now it is even lower. Responsibility for new products and services declined from 53% to 29%. Market selection and market entry strategies both declined by approaching 20% points as fewer CMO's reported being responsible for them. Responsibility for pricing, sales, customer service, and distribution slipped even lower.

Marketers have taken on more responsibilities
Overall, CMOs claim to be responsible for 13 different tasks, up from 10. This assessment is qualitative, because as the business environment has evolved, new items have been added to the CMO survey. For instance, marketing analytics has joined market research as the responsibility of over 7 out of 10 marketers, and customer insight for just over half. Other new responsibilities include customer experience (44%), revenue growth (40%), and e-commerce (33%).

The number of indirect marketing reports has more than doubled
Perhaps a more tangible sign that marketers are having to deal with more responsibilities, is that the number of indirect reports has increased from an average of 16 in August 2013 to 38 in Fall 2023. No doubt, the influx of specialist tasks from search engine optimization to digital media buying and lead generation to marketing analytics is responsible for this dramatic shift. In contrast, the number of direct reports has held steady at 7, suggesting that each member of the marketing team is wearing more hats than in the past.

A greater need for cooperation, coordination, and communication
What that implies to me is that for marketing to be truly effective the degree of cooperation, coordination, and communication with other departments and suppliers has become ever greater. Recent conversations with senior marketers indicate that alignment across a firm has become one of the biggest barriers to progress, even when the objective should improve marketing effectiveness. Simply ensuring the consistent use of a brand's distinctive assets across all consumer touch points has become a big challenge for some marketers, simply because they must persuade others that it is the right thing to do. It is not impossible to get things done when multiple departments are involved, but it certainly does not make things easier.

More tasks, less leverage?

My assessment is that marketing is being overloaded with more tasks, more indirect reports, and a greater need for coordination with other departments to be truly effective. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts below. 

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June 24, 2024