According to a Forbes Insights survey, 69% of CEOs said they think their companies waste money on marketing initiatives.
Unfortunately that’s not a view limited to small companies that will often have to make the hard call between investing in their marketing or buying a new piece of equipment. Indeed – many large companies also struggle to understand the long-term strategic benefits of investing in their brand.
Having worked in the advertising, branding and marketing industries for more than 20 years, it’s still one of the most common issues that we encounter and the bugbear of countless marketing teams the world over, who struggle to justify the importance of what they do.
So here are some insights that might help you bring the CEO or board – on-board to give you better strategic support and the resources you need to get the job done:
Create a brand story that engages more audiences.
Start by asking yourself, who is the company’s brand story actually relevant to? A good brand story will be relevant to a wide array of audiences, not just your customers and staff.
Experience has taught us that by strategically expanding your marketing to reach key stakeholders, i.e. investors, analysts, commentators and lobbyists can have a significant impact on the company that no CEO or board can fail to recognise. A strong brand presence has the potential to drive up stock prices and other brand metrics and also ensure your company attracts the brightest employees.
Show how the brand build and drives company culture.
This is something we’ve talked about before, but your marketing and branding strategies need to be inward facing as well as outward. A strong brand and intelligent marketing play a crucial role in building and reinforcing a company’s internal culture.
Team up with your HR department, identify the role your brand plays in attracting the best candidates in the market and monitor staff motivation levels during campaigns to show increases in productivity.
Be the driving force.
We’ve all seen those TV shows where everyone sits around the boardroom table nodding and agreeing with everything the CEO says. But in today’s competitive market, companies need drivers – people that have the courage, vision and ambition to get things done.
It’s not enough just to know what your own company is doing, you need to understand what the market your brand is operating in, is doing – and you also need to understand what your competitors are doing.
Knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have, the better equipped you’ll be to drive your branding and marketing activities ahead of your competitors and achieve sector control.
Don’t be afraid to ask your agencies what they are seeing or doing in other markets. They won’t tell you what they are doing for other clients, but they can often give you an insight into a new or emerging trend that you can adopt and present as a solution to your CEO in a pre-emptive strategy that will catch the competition with their hands in their pockets.
Equally important – have the confidence to walk away from a strategy if you find it doesn’t work. One of the biggest problems many brands face is that no one wants to be seen to ‘make a bad call’, so instead of calling out something that doesn’t work, everyone will mumble about it in the background, but never move to fix it.
Prove your strategy works with hard facts.
Back when I first started in this industry, the ringing of tills indicated that a strategy was working. Today, you have access to many more analytical tools – so use them and understand how to interpret them.
Show the CEO or board that your strategy is backed up with hard data and not just fanciful guesswork. Use the analytical tools at your disposal to monitor and tweak your strategy for better effect.
But be realistic about the data you are getting and don’t follow it blindly – listen to customers and staff that are customer facing. They will give you an invaluable insight into the real-world effectiveness and relevancy of your strategy.
Choose battles you’ll win.
One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to persuade the CEO or board to change their view on branding and marketing investment is that they start by suggesting the need for a major cash injection. That’s not going to happen. So look at how to validate the effectiveness of your marketing spend and start with clever solutions that simply require project approval as opposed to funds.
You can also suggest reallocating funds from one part of your marketing strategy to test-bed a new approach. By showing the CEO or board that you are being innovative in your thinking and experimenting with new approaches without expecting fresh funding, you are much more likely to get sign-off on new strategies and engage their interest. By proving your thinking is right on small projects, you are much more likely to earn their trust and support when it comes to undertaking a major new strategy.
I knew you were going to say that.
Before you present your marketing strategy to the CEO or the board, prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more. Use your knowledge of the personalities you’re presenting to and anticipate the questions they’ll ask and be realistic about the difficulties they will raise and the problems they will identify. Have your answers and solutions ready to any of the barriers you know or anticipate will be raised.
Also – you might want to think about lobbying support for your proposal before going into the presentation. Share your ideas with key influencers that will have the ear of the CEO or board. Get their input as if they identify issues, you can be sure the CEO or board will as well.
Remember – the CEO or board will often not have the information you have and are making their decisions on a fraction of the knowledge and or market intelligence you have. This often manifests itself as the default mode of ‘’let’s not rock the boat”. You don’t have to rock the boat, but by understanding and validating your reasoning, you can navigate the boat around the rocks.
Reassure the CEO or board with real-life case studies or examples of other companies that have used their marketing to push ahead. This helps diminish the risk factor and gives the CEO or board the comfort of knowing that they are not the guinea pig.
Benchmark yourself against best-in-class companies and competitors.
There will always be a default company or brand’s marketing success that the CEO or board reference and admire. Use that knowledge to your advantage. Make it your job to understand the strategy and tactics that company is using and explain why your proposed strategy will work by referencing those successes.
You also need to come out of the ivory tower. One of the most common mistakes marketing teams make is to view their brand and marketing is isolation to the competition. You only have to look through some of your industry’s trade publications or view your literature and digital assets side by side with competitors and it quickly becomes apparent, a lot of B2B brands especially, all look and act the same.
Know you competition and also who is nipping at your heels. A simple SWOT analysis can help you identify where you have an opportunity to separate your brand and marketing from the herd and also, where you need to correct your strategy to compensate for weaknesses.
But above all – keep your strategy and thinking agile. Your brand and your marketing exists in a state of continuous flux and needs to be ready to take advantage of opportunities and respond to threats.
“Article adapted from 7 strategies for selling marketing to your CEO” on CMO.com.