Marketing and the “language of business”

Nick Wreden in his FusionBrand blog reports on an ANA survey on perceptions of marketing. In some ways, it’s a familar story

Despite its importance marketing is not getting the respect that all those in marketing think they deserve. Few marketing executives ever make CEO. Vice presidents of marketing have a notoriously short shelf life. According to executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, the average CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) tenure lasts only 23 months. In the food industry, tenure is only 12 months, barely enough time for business cards to dry. Famed branding observer Don E. Schulz observes that “the marketing function is being pushed lower and lower in the corporate hierarchy.”

I was interested in the bit that showed CEO’s preoccupied with things like growth, agility and innovation… whilst the marketers were most interested in… branding guidelines!

There’s a lot of material in the full post… and I just want to have a bit of a rant against the part I least agree with. I hope Nick will cut me a bit of slack if that seems rather ungracious.

Nick reports

To address this gap, marketing needs to talk the language of business. That means more than paying obligatory homage to ROI, then using surrogate metrics like “awareness,” which has no quantifiable impact on the bottom line. It means using some of the advanced features of Excel. As the ANA study put it all too well: “Some marketing chiefs value unbridled creativity and innovation over multivariate regression models that isolate the incremental consumption delivered by a new ad execution.”

Actually, in this set up of CEO-stereotype vs Marketing-stereotype, I feel like saying a plague on both your houses.

I’d like to see thinking that transcends both the wishful thinking of marketing and also the mechanistic metrics fetishism that – it is claimed – matters to CEOs.

Down with the “language of business”

If this stuff about “multivariate regression models that isolate the incremental consumption”” is what the report calls the “language of business” then marketing should be challenging, not feebly and half-heartedly imitating, it. I dislike the idea that business is somehow so separate from life that it qualifies for its own elite language. And this “marketing-must-speak-the-language-of-the-boardroom” idea needs a good seeing to.

Marketing goes down a blind alley if it buys into measurement gobbledegook. Of course there is a role for sophisticated measures but there’s a an important difference between the sophisticated and the merely-complicated. The latter represents our fallible, unpredictable human interactions as a neat set of isolated-value-increments. I find that way of describing human interactions dehumanising and crass.

And while I’m on this soapbox, I just don’t buy the myth of the CEO as blind to the fuzzy and intuitive and fixated only on the hard and concrete. I think this is largely a fantasy made up by people – perhaps especially marketing people – who just don’t have the nerve to challenge their bosses or speak up robustly for things that are intangible but real.

I’m looking for a bit of muscular uncertainty, not more Gradgrindian “hard facts” that turn out to be specious.

(For more on Gradgrind, check out one of my favourite spots on the web: Mr. Gradgrind’s

Literal Answers to Rhetorical Questions

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Though the poet neglects to enumerate them, providing instead a mere list, a simple inventory establishes that–if we omit the purely hypothetical posthumous final one–Elizabeth Barrett loved Robert Browning in precisely six ways.

How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?

Administered commodity prices resulting in an average profit per farmer of no more than $50,000 per annum should be adequate to discourage profligate trips to France.

are two good examples)

/rant, as Mark Brady would say.

2 thoughts on “Marketing and the “language of business”

  1. Nick Wreden

    Thank you for the feedback. But without measurement, how do you establish accountability? Without measurement, how do you track progress toward goals? Without consistent metrics that enable “one-number” management, how do you get organizational buy-in? I am all for the emotional power of branding, but believe that the investment must be measured by sales, customer profitability or other metric. Why should marketing be exempt from the standards that guide every other part of the organization? Best, Nick

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Nick. I probably haven’t been clear enough.

    I am not saying measurement is wrong. To quote myself here: “of course there is a role for sophisticated measures”. You seem to think I’m arguing that measures are wrong. I am not.

    AND I am saying I am deeply wary of the idea that measurement is all. The trouble is, the debate gets sucked into an either or polarity.

    The solution is not simply one of having very clever sounding measures. It is to recognise that measures are just a guide, and only an approximation of what’s going on.

    I believe marketing is at much a risk of losing credibility by adopting specious measures, as it is by not measuring at all.

    What I don’t like about the “language of business” argument is that is seems to amount to the idea that only what can be measured is of value.

    And the challenge for marketing, and anyone else, is to put value on what can’t be measured as well as what can.

    I’m also a fan on plain English and temperamentally very suspcious of sophisticated jargon for measuring the unpredictable details of human interaction.

    I’m sorry if in rant mode I’ve not articulated that so well!


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