CEOs & Executive Management

CEOs take an expansive view of future opportunity

A Strategic Marketing Plan addresses all five Top CEO Concerns


As a CEO or Managing Partner, you’re unlike other members of the C-suite. To do your job, you depend on others to be accountable. Whether your firm has a centralized marketing function or markets by practice area, your focus is on what marketing activities bring to the bottom line.

Marketing-speak or programs without a clear link to revenue aren't worth a CEO's time. Few CEOs come up through marketing, so it's the marketer's responsibility to speak the CEO's language, not the other way around.

Every CEO I've known is willing to spend on marketing—providing they know what they are getting. Too often they don't, a finding backed up by a survey on marketing effectiveness revealing that 80% of business-to-business CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from fiscal realities. More than two-thirds see marketing as living in a creative and social media bubble where they focus too much on “interesting, but not critical” activities such as “likes," “tweets,” “feeds” or “followers.” Does this sound familiar?

You need marketing to focus more on ROI and activities with proven results, but three out of four CEOs view marketers as misunderstanding the meaning of "results," "ROI" and "performance." It’s not surprising then that CEOs and CFOs often turn a skeptical eye towards marketing. Over-reliance on quantitative metrics generates its own set of tradeoffs that leaves marketing ill-prepared to deliver across the full-breadth of its potential capabilities. Marketing focused on a small number of financial metrics is not marketing focused on the longer-term vitality of the firm.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Yes, everything marketing does should be evaluated. However, not all metrics need be quantitative if all activities are assessed regularly and critically. However, this is only an option when marketing is viewed as part of a firm’s strategic core. For most services firms, this is not the case.

A better route is to implement a Strategic Marketing Plan that is aligned with why customers select your firm over other option and your corporate strategy. By going well beyond the reactive tactics and activities of most marketing plans, a truly strategic Strategic Marketing Plan guides not just Marketing, but the entire firm. This is Strategic Marketing 3.0. An amazing number of pieces drop into place when the "why" questions are fully addressed. Isn't this what you want as a CEO?

The Strategic Marketing Plans I create for clients address all five top CEO concerns as reported by The CEO Institute. You’ll notice that none of the five concerns is explicitly about marketing. Yet, for a firm with a marketing culture, it’s easy to see how marketing directly impacts all five. The top CMO concerns would be aligned, but voiced very differently.

  • 1. Sourcing and retaining skilled staff. The core of a strategic marketing plan is sound positioning. Initiatives highlighting why your firm is better than the alternatives—innovative products, creative solutions or employees that go above and beyond--are easily adapted to attract employees that want to work in such an environment. When the best and brightest candidates seek you out, the hiring process is more efficient. A Strategic Marketing Plan provides smooth integration and alignment for sourcing talent.

  • 2. Top-line growth results from doing the right things and doing them well. A Strategic Marketing Plan provides a road map aligning marketing, sales and business development along key corporate priorities. The resulting cooperation blurs the line between marketing and sales—and even service and support—while providing direction to other functional areas. If it's not crystal clear how your marketing plan is aligned with corporate goals, it probably isn't.

  • 3. Reducing costs and 4. Improving operational efficiency. While a Strategic Marketing Plan won't negotiate lower costs for raw materials, assessing marketing and business development activities against clear criteria aligned with corporate goals identifies activities for re-tooling or elimination. Without a clear, agreed upon framework, once popular but no longer effective programs and activities often defy well-intentioned efforts to kill them. Re-investing the savings into new, more effective initiatives organically funds new opportunities while raising overall operational efficiency. Having clear priorities is an invaluable advantage for helping you stay strong when resources are limited.

  • 5. Managing increasing competition. For most businesses, managing competition requires more than tweaking prices and feature sets. Buyers often have several acceptable options, so winning dictates that your firm be better than the alternatives. A Strategic Marketing Plan tips the table competitively by aligning your entire organization in spreading the brand and key messages as it goes about its everyday words and action.

Engaging the entire executive team in developing key elements of the Strategic Marketing Plan generates important secondary benefits far beyond what you are used to seeing from "Marketing." These benefits include client services personnel that can spot strategic opportunities and non-customer-facing staff better able to act independently in support of corporate priorities. Because a Strategic Marketing Plan influences overall company success and capabilities in a myriad of ways, in a surprising number of cases, the internal client is you, the CEO.

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