Why CFOs are Dubious about Marketing

We all know the problem.  Those accounting types are driving us crazy, constantly demanding that we measure our success and justify our expenses.  We tie ourselves in knots trying to come up with metrics that will satisfy them.

Well, with all due respect, I’d like to suggest that a large part of the problem is us, not them.

♦  Too often, we set high expectations.  And then deliver meager results.

Too often, marketers jump on the latest Internet fad and technological wonder and happily proclaim that this is the answer we’ve all been waiting for.  We buy into the “common wisdom,” even if it doesn’t necessarily makes sense for our industry or company; and we chase the rainbow looking for the pot of gold.

For example, I recently came across one fellow who felt confident saying that 80-90% of all marketing will be done on social media within 5 years.  Really?  Does anyone remember how, with the popularization of the Internet, pundits were predicting the decline of brick and mortar business and confidently tell us we’d all be working virtually by now?

♦  We spend virtually no time building an internal constituency.

Almost anyone who can hold a pencil secretly believes that he can do marketing, and do it successfully.  And if anyone can do it, why aren’t we doing it better?

When was the last time you saw marketing people explain the logic behind their plans, the metrics behind their assumptions, the realities behind their timetables, or the work it takes to make a concept real and attractive in the marketplace?  How often does marketing discuss with finance (and with manufacturing, and with HR, etc.) where they are going, and why?

(This, actually, would be enormously useful to marketing itself for another reason.  It would force us to examine our assumptions and expectations with people who don’t necessarily share them.)

♦  Too often, we confuse tactics with strategy.  And tactics and strategy play different roles in ROI.

“Strategy” is sexy, of course.  So we call everything we do “strategic.”  Indeed, almost every aspect of marketing has elevated itself to having a “strategy.”  Who wants to admit to not having a mobile marketing strategy, a social media strategy, a customer engagement strategy, and so on?

Well, from an accounting perspective, it makes a difference.  Tactics should bring in immediate (or near-term) income.  Strategy positions a company for a longer-term income stream.  But if all we do is “strategic,” then isn’t it right for the CFO to wonder whether what we do will ever positively affect the bottom-line? And want to know when?

♦  Sadly, marketers all too often don’t understand accounting and finance, critical (if unglamorous) elements for corporate success.  And we make no attempt to try.

CFOs do understand intangible value.  Think of “good will” valuation in mergers and acquisitions.  Good will is the value of the brand itself, the name recognition, the reputation of the products and company.  Marketing strategy helps build that good will.  When was the last time you discussed this with your CFO?

CFOs understand investment, intellectual property, and product development costs, with the expectation of a longer-term payback and profitability.  When was the last time you explained the development of your strategy in those terms?

When we talk to our customers and prospects, we are supposed to speak to them in terms they understand, in language that is meaningful to them, describing the benefits for them of what we do.

Maybe we should try talking to CFOs the same way.

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