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  • Writer's pictureGordon G. Andrew

Your Marketing: Is it the Love Child of Warren G. Harding?

After nearly a century of fighting for the legitimacy of her "love child" daughter, the long-time mistress of President Warren G. Harding, was recently vindicated by new DNA testing.

The tenacity of Nan Britton and her family helped to prove that America’s 29th president fathered more than the Teapot Dome corruption scandal. Harding never met his out-of-wedlock daughter, Elizabeth Ann, but demonstrated presidential timber by providing financial support for her until he died in office at the age of 57.

For Chief Marketing Officers, the outcome of this juicy scandal might provide some hope that hard work and determination can help them to legitimize the often maligned marketing function, and perhaps increase their stature and length of tenure at the senior management table.

Unfortunately, there are no DNA tests to validate marketing as a legitimate member of the CXO family of business functions. But there are some unscientific ways to accomplish that goal within your company:

Clarify Marketing’s Role – The most pragmatic answer to “What is marketing?” may be: “Whatever your employer (or client) needs it to be.” Exploration of how marketing can be applied to achieve tangible benefits for your organization begins with frank and perhaps eye-opening conversations with senior managers to gain a first-hand understanding of their current perceptions and expectations of the function. You may be surprised at the depth of misunderstanding that exists within your organization regarding your activity and its value. This is an opportunity to clarify what marketing does and can do for them, to identify their needs and establish expectations.

Get Quantitative – The fuzzy nature of marketing can sometimes make it difficult to demonstrate a direct correlation between that activity and tangible business outcomes. Most senior executives accept that reality, and do not expect marketing to be a profit center. However, marketers who understand the bottom-line orientation of the business world make it a priority to connect the dots internally, by explaining and highlighting what role marketing has played in helping to produce results – whether those outcomes are measured by lead generation, search engine page rankings, revenue growth, employee satisfaction or customer experience.

Speak Their Language – It’s not necessary to understand all the technicalities, issues or nuances related to various corporate functions, but marketers need to know what’s important. For example, your CFO does not expect you to be up-to-date on Dodd-Frank compliance, but does expect you to be well-versed regarding the company’s business model (how it makes and spends money), its competitive landscape, key legislation and enterprise priorities such as market share, acquisition or going public. Speaking your company’s language has less to do with knowing balance sheet terminology, and more to do with being tuned into what’s on the priority list of its senior team and your ability to adapt marketing strategies to support those goals.

Get Strategic – As a staff function, marketing is often viewed as corporate overhead, and expendable when times get tough. Making marketing an essential element in line function strategies can build internal support as well as career longevity. To make marketing indispensible within your organization, focus on activities that are valued by senior management. These are typically tactics that make the phones ring, or move the revenue needle. For example, drive a successful effort to get your company’s whiz-bang technology included in a respected industry benchmark such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant (ideally, without paying Gartner’s hefty subscription fee), and watch the marketing department’s stature rise internally.

Act Like an Agency – Outside marketing firms live or die by the level of service and results they deliver to clients. An agency’s motivation and enthusiasm are driven by an appreciation that if they fail to meet expectations or add value, they will likely be replaced. Corporate marketing practitioners who adopt an agency mindset – treating each operational function as an outside agency might manage a client – can build internal support across the organization. From a practical standpoint, this means understanding what your internal clients need, developing tailored plans of action, being accountable for agreed-upon deliverables and maintaining a sense of urgency.

Be Fearless – You must serve as the marketing function’s ambassador within your company. Keep the pom-poms in the file cabinet, but don’t be shy about discussing what’s working, as well as what’s not and why. If you don’t point out marketing’s contribution to the top or bottom lines, no one else will. Conversely, if you don’t put shortcomings out on the table, someone else is likely to do that for you. And if you’re in an environment where honest conversations regarding success and failure are not fostered, then it may not be a management table where you want to be seated.

The ancestors of President Harding's mistress fought for decades simply to prove that Nan Britton was telling the truth regarding her love child. Marketing, as the love child of every enterprise, deserves an equal level of determination to prove its value to a skeptical business world.

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