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Marketers must expand beyond marketing communications or risk boardroom irrelevance

Over the last few years, we have seen the term “marketing” drastically reduced to “marketing communications”, leaving a significant gap in the broader business landscape

One stark reality we now have to deal with as we stride into 2024 is the prevalent misconception that perceives marketing solely through the lens of marketing communications, a pigeonholing which has profound implications for marketers as it leaves them sidelined during crucial business deliberations.

Particularly in technology-driven industries where exponential growth is demanded, marketers now find themselves excluded from critical conversations on pricing, analytics, and finance– areas essential for comprehensive business strategy. In these tech firms, it’s the engineers who sit at the table during product discussions, while marketers are only summoned for engagements with advertising agencies or digital marketers.

“Marketing is bigger than marketing communications,” said Olu Akanmu, a prominent marketing executive and Executive in Residence at Lagos Business School while addressing the need to redefine marketing beyond marketing communications and towards business leadership and growth. 

“Advertising people have captured marketing and they have given it a very narrow meaning. Advertisers are everywhere, and the problem that has created is that in many businesses, especially in the technology companies where the whole lot of growth in business is coming today, the concept and understanding of many people of marketing is marketing communications.Therefore, marketers if they are not careful, will no longer be in the room when the business is being discussed. It is when the business conversation has been finalized, they will now say ‘let’s call the communications people, we will go and communicate what we have decided’, because marketers, or ‘marketing’ people have reduced marketing to marketing communication whereas   there are products, channels, and pricing,” he stated. 

To regain relevance in today’s rapidly advancing business landscape, marketers, especially in tech-driven companies, must embrace technological literacy.

The transformative power of technology is evident in the success stories of companies listed on major stock exchanges like FTSE 100 and Nasdaq where tech firms dominate, buttressing the need for marketers who are traditionally focused on brand preference and engagement with advertising agencies, to evolve and be part of discussions on UI, UX, customer experience, and product design.

The language of the boardroom is the language of revenue and strategy. However, technology is not the sole domain that marketers need to conquer, Finance is equally critical

“When you look at the Chief Marketing Officers of tech firms, and even look at telecom companies in Nigeria today, you find that the CMOs are no longer traditional marketers. It would shock you, but it is because we have left our space. It is because marketing people narrowed marketing to marketing communications. The language of the boardroom is the language of revenue and strategy. If you cannot speak those languages, you will not be invited to the boardroom. If you are in the boardroom, you are going to be a passive member of the boardroom. That is why people say the CFOs are the ones that become the CEOs,” Akanmu asserted, charging marketers on learning technology and finance to secure their position in the boardroom.

“Because when people have invested in your company, they want to hear ‘return on investment’. How many customers have come? How much are we making per customer relative to our investment? If you cannot speak those languages, you will be irrelevant in the boardroom, even if you make it as a marketing director. They will not call you when important board discussions are going on. We have allowed advertising and marcoms people to capture marketing, and it has gotten so bad to the point where when you now even check out the marketing people in banks, who are the people you find there? Not marketers, instead you find former journalists, former public relations officials, because that is what we reduced marketing to,” he continued. 

…the misconception that CFOs are the enemies of marketing also needs to be dispelled

In reality, the CFO can be a marketer’s best friend if they share a common language of finance, ROI, and business strategy. Marketers must break free from the confines of marketing communications and embrace a more comprehensive understanding of business. The boardroom demands accountability, and marketers need to deliver results that are measurable and contribute to the company’s bottom line.

Meanwhile, this is where Performance marketing becomes imperative. Marketers must be accountable for their strategies and investments. It’s not about vague brand preferences; it’s about tangible results that can be linked to business success. Whether focusing on short-term gains or long-term strategies, clear metrics are non-negotiable.  

“Imagine you want a billion Naira budget, and you don’t want to be accountable, you just want to say, ‘oh brand preference, feelings, they love it. Brand love. Your shareholders ask, ‘hey, how much is brand love? How much is it putting on the table? That is the marketing we have to practice. Marketing is business. Performance marketing, accountable marketing. If you invest, I’m not saying, I’m not saying marketing is all short-term, but even when you are doing a long-term, there must be clear metrics that show what the one billion Naira marketing investment has given to you. Think like the CEO, think Revenue, think ROI, and in everything that you do, relate it back to that. Then you will be a far stronger, solid marketer and business leader. And then CFOs will not be the only ones making CEOs,” the marketing executive concluded.

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