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Why CEOs Hate Marketing (And Why I Can’t Always Blame Them)

Why CEOs Hate Marketing (And Why I Can’t Always Blame Them)

I spend every single week working with CEOs of small and mid-market companies. And, I will tell you, their affiliation with marketing has all the markers of a love-hate relationship.

Well…oftentimes more hate than love.

[Related: Marketing in the Next Normal: Four Marketing Strategies for a Post-Pandemic World]

The reality (and fantasy) of marketing investment.

The CEOs who hate marketing have a good reason: It's a cost center. There's nothing we can do about that. It's cold, hard cash they have to spend on something for which there is absolutely no guarantee.

CEOs who actually love marketing are enthusiastic about the promise of marketing and how it's going to drive their business. But, what happens is that they are frequently disappointed (and repeatedly disappointed), because they figure you “get what you pay for.” I'm going to plop down my credit card, and I'm going to get the return that I expect. It’s a buy/sell transaction, right?

As we know, it doesn't always work out that way.

Marketing “couples therapy.”

How can you foster a more realistic relationship between you, the CEO, and your marketing? Here are a few tips.

1) Know what you know, and know what you don't know.

In the most successful strategic partnerships I’ve been a part of, the CEOs come to the table with a very firm idea of exactly the kind of marketing that they need. Guess what? We take a pause.

We think about the revenue stream, we think about their choices in terms of how many target markets they could actually choose from. We come to understand which channels don't really work with their target audience — and which ones do. We have to consider a target audience and purchase cycle: Is it way too long for revenue goals?

Once we sit down and work out a strategy — really work out a plan that maps to their business goals — then they know what they need to know.

[Related: How to Successfully Pivot as a Female Entrepreneur]

2) Be realistic about the time frame.

Every CEO wants her business to be a household name tomorrow. But, we know the most successful business leaders in the world will tell you things take time. Growth takes testing; titrating between different avenues. It takes mistakes.

Time is the essential learning tool for any CEO in the rest of your business. So, let's ask ourselves, why not for marketing?

3) Know what you can do now and know what can wait.

I recognize that not all businesses have time on their side. Some businesses, particularly in the past eighteen months, have suffered significant and unexpected revenue declines.

The truth is, there's always a way to find the low-hanging fruit. There was always a way to find the focused set of things you can do now, that you need to do now, to generate revenue. And what happens? You generate revenue that allows you to fund the marketing you're going to need to do for the next step.

Finding love in marketing.

It happens time and time again…CEOs come to me with the same three questions about marketing (which most definitely keep them up at night): How much do I have to spend? On what? And when?

If the answer was simple, these business leaders would only have a love-love relationship with marketing. But, it does take work. I’ve been there! A business is a lot to carry, and every single day brings new challenges. The good news is, by using the above approach, you can more easily navigate the “hungry beast” that marketing is.

[Related: Your Five-Point MarComm and PR Plan]


Ilene Rosenthal is the CEO of White Space Marketing Group.

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