Is it the Marketing or the Market: The CMO’s Conundrum

December 10, 2007 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

You’ve optimized your Web site. Got a cool new logo. RSS and Blogs are engaging thousands of prospects. Sales guys trained. Gartner just named you a Cool Vendor. And yet…somehow nothing is moving the needle in Sales. What’s wrong?

I thought to write this entry after having a quick “sideline chat” with a CEO friend of mine as we watched our kids romp around the soccer field. He was asking my advice on advertising and PR for his company to help jumpstart sales. “We just need to get some buzz out there,” was the last thing he said before our team scored and euphoric pandemonium broke loose.

When I hear comments like this, the first thing I think is that people truly don’t understand marketing. If you have a fundamental sales problem and decide to try and fix it with PR and advertising, you will likely end up much poorer, with only an outside chance of improving sales. Because while PR and advertising are tactics that can be used in marketing programs, they are not a marketing strategy. It’s the strategy part that I think many CMO’s don’t push hard enough on.

I typically resist citing Ted Levitt, after working at a company where people would shout “We’re not in the railroad business, we’re in the transportation business” in just about any strategy meeting where our CEO was present. They would smile confidently after invoking the great Harvard guru, sure that the citation would earn them their next promotion. But Marketing Myopia was a landmark article, and many companies today should take a refresher read. Because sometimes it’s the corporate strategy, the product definition and value proposition that are the problems. It’s often not Marketing’s strategy; it’s marketing strategy that’s the problem. It’s something the whole company needs to agree on and move forward with.

This is why you often see startup companies change strategy, because as smart as we all are here in Silicon Valley, you can’t always predict how the markets will change. During my tenure here at Ipedo, we had the dot-com bust, 9-11 induced market caution, and a huge rise in the acceptance of open source. None of these were in our business plan, and yet they significantly affected the buying behavior and technology adoption of our desired customers, so we needed to adapt our product and our message.

In my previous company RSA Security, after many years of being a great but not urgent technology, suddenly the Web (read Netscape) made ours a must have. The fact that the government was fighting to dilute the strength of encryption got us a volume of PR we never would have been able to generate otherwise.  Who knew?

So sometimes you can move to a market. Sometimes it comes to you. Actually moving a market is something I’m not sure anyone can do, certainly not on a startup’s budget.

So what are you to do as a marketer? I came across a great entry on the marketing function in David Hornik’s Venture Blog, where he nets out why marketing is so hard:

“What has become clear to me over the years is that great marketing is not purely about science. It is not purely about art. It is not purely about intuition. It is a powerful combination of art, science and a little bit of luck (perhaps driven by intuition).”

As a CMO or VP Marketing, you must step up to help form the right corporate strategy. This means working with the CEO and exec team to pick the right market with customers who have a problem.

But still, picking the right market, getting the timing right, and then building the right product and programs to capitalize on it: this is all very hard stuff. Is it time to hit the gas, or time to switch course? Is it the marketing or the market? This is the CMO’s conundrum.

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Entry filed under: Advertising, Strategy.

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