While marketers might think they are the be-all and end-all of a business, it turns out that CEOs don’t exactly echo that sentiment. Greg Garden, CEO of the Marketing Association of South Africa (MASA) shared his thoughts on this topic in his presentation at the IMC Conference on Thursday, 14 March.

“What do CEOs really think of marketers?” Garden asked. “Well, I’ll need you to put on your thick skins, because if we’re going to [be honest], there’s no hiding the ugly bits.”

The state of marketing in South Africa

“Marketers of South Africa unite! You have nothing to gain but your credibility. Because, fellow marketers, what we need now more than ever, is credibility …” said Garden.

He said that marketing is currently in “a bit of a quandry”.

“There’s a lot to celebrate — marketing is alive and kicking. It’s vibrant. It’s transforming faster than many other professions, if not yet fast enough, and it is thriving. I see more opportunity and more upward mobility in marketing than ever before.”

“But without contradicting that glowing review, for it is indeed a paradox, marketing is also one big, crazy mess,” he said.

At the same time that marketing is seemingly thriving, it is also undergoing an existential crisis. We’re dealing with a fundamental questioning of marketing’s purpose, value and meaning — and often, whether or not it’s a real profession.

Garden said that there are many factors involved here, including:

  • The standoff between the chief marketing officer and business’s other chief officers
  • Restructuring of businesses that often see marketing thrown right out of the organogram
  • Poor job scoping rising from the fact that there are so many different types of marketers
  • The way that technology has massively complicated the marketing skills landscape
“Whether it’s all, or some, or just one of those factors, the naked truth is that at the same time, marketing is expanding and imploding,” concluded Garden.

On top of this, rapidly-advancing technology has often developed faster than the organisational structures, meaning that, at the same time, two types of marketers exist:

  1. The four P’s foundationalist: Very strong on consumer insights, brand-positioning and building, but lacking deep knowledge of data and digital.
  2. The data-driven, digital-savvy revisionists: A bit shallow on the principles of marketing.

“And this all adds up to a pretty chaotic playground ... If the marketers aren’t quite sure if it’s swings or roundabouts, you can understand why the accounting-types and CEOs are confused — and of course, frustrated.”
At the same time, marketing is expanding and imploding.

So, what do CEOs really think of marketers?

While there have been numerous studies worldwide on how CEOs view marketing (and marketers), Garden said that he was not aware of any specifically focussed on South Africa.

“In the range of studies to pick from, you’ll find that between 50% and 80% of CEOs don’t trust marketing. That’s shocking. The Harvard Study, probably the most reputable of the lot, put that figure at 80%. If that’s not something that will keep you awake at night as a marketer, I don’t know what will.”

Under the auspices of MASA, Garden has embarked on a local study to uncover exactly what South African CEOs think of marketers.

The questions he posed to South African CEOs include:
  • What role do you see marketing playing in the business?
  • How do you see the role of marketing in the delivery of business results?
  • Do you see marketing as low, medium or high impact in the delivery of business results?
  • Do you see marketing as suitable for representation on the exco or at board level?
  • How would you rate the current capability levels of your marketing professionals?
  • What are the strengths and opportunities? How can these be improved?
The full study has yet to be released, but Garden did share some of the answers he received.

“Without pre-empting the study, here are some perceptions to help keep you awake at night,” he said.

  • “Without marketing, we’d be poorer. With it, we are.”
  • “Marketers are good at detecting and analysing problems, but not as good at finding solutions.”
  • “My experience is that they are very articulate, but are experts at moaning.”
  • “In most areas of business, jargon is a way of describing things of substance, but marketing jargon is gobbledygook, flavour-of-the-month lingo that I’m not sure marketers themselves understand.”
  • “I think most of them just wing it.”
  • “They don’t crack the board or the exco because most often they don’t contribute to the same kind of value that others from finance, strategy or operations contribute.”
Garden said that he doesn’t expect that the full study’s findings will be fundamentally different from the international studies, but he does hope that it will be a little more positive. He said that the full study will provide useful guidance as to what marketing professionals need to do to improve CEOs’ perceptions of them, improve their stature and their status in the boardrooms of South Africa.

“Let’s not forget the paradox that, despite the mess that marketing is in, marketers [from all over the country] do important work to keep their brands thriving and their bottom line’s growing. We don’t need to wait for search results to start doing things that we know will make a difference.”

What do you think marketers can do to improve the way CEOs think of them? Share your thought with us in the comments section below.

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Apart from some more credibility with CEOs, What does marketing need? Playfulness, bravery and curiosity! Find out why in our article.
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy