By Guy Broadhurst

I just read yet another article about marketing, or to be correct, about the short lifespan of Chief Marketing Officers. Executive search firm SpencerStewart reported in August that the tenure for CMOs at the 100 top consumer branded companies continued to decline in 2006 to an average of just over 23 months.

Greg Welch, who runs SpencerStewart's marketing officer practice notes, “As the chief marketing officer role has risen in strategic importance and visibility, it has brought on rising performance expectations and demands for the role that require broader and more sophisticated skill sets."

Without marketing, margarine would still be silver-colored, we’d have only a couple types of laundry detergent, cell phones, TVs, and a handful of car models.

CMOs do have a lot on their plates these days, from needing an integrated view of increasingly sophisticated markets, products and customers to increasing reach via print and electronic media. Then there's the changes wrought by ever-evolving technologies, gaining new customers while keeping existing ones, and the volatility of an always-on global economy. CMOs need to measure results and (hopefully) justify the requisite media and marketing investments with a reasonable ROI. It's a big change from back in the day when flashy ad campaigns and a good grasp of media buying were key pages in a marketer's playbook.

To many people, marketing has always bordered on the unfathomable, as reflected in the lament of the apocryphal CEO who purportedly said, "I know half of my advertising isn't working. I just don't know which half." Hence the need for measurement and tracking of all marketing activities, but also the (sometimes valid) perception that marketing is a waste of time and money. It also points to the need for CMOs to have strong relationships with CEOs and other executives and that those execs communicate marketing goals across an organization. Unfortunately, this is not the norm.

Yet, while many people think marketing is a waste of time, consider that without marketing, margarine would still be silver-colored, we’d have only a couple types of laundry detergent, cell phones, TVs, and a handful of car models. And probably just a few digital print engines, for that matter. For better or worse, without the understanding of buyer behavior marketers have developed, significantly fewer choices for virtually every product would reach the market. It's one thing to create new products, but marketing plays a big role in making them successful. Or maybe not.

Marketers also have to learn to understand, almost intuitively, customers' needs, and even have a vision for what can be done.

Yes, I’ve heard many a tale about the marketing community (my favorite is “putting lipstick on a pig"), but at least in this industry, our job is not only positioning, pricing and beating a drum. Far from it. At Océ, marketers commonly work with sales teams and often become the interface between the customer and technical support crews. We do that by spending a lot of time on the phone and in person with our customers and prospects to help them through the morass of misinformation (and disinformation) that plagues this industry.

A Two-way Street

Such education is an important part of selling technological products and it is really a two-way street. People need to know much more than the speeds and feeds, but look for advance support in determining how well a new machine might fit into their operations. We hear many questions regarding color. At one end of the spectrum this could be how to integrate color pages into books. At the other it's about adding color to transactional bills and statements. We talk about the workflow changes, design issues, the different thinking required, and how a customer may have to revise many of the things they do if they are to operate efficiently with new color systems. Marketers also have to learn to understand, almost intuitively, customers' needs, and even have a vision for what can be done. And we have to be TCO and ROI specialists, because cost and investment returns are often overriding considerations.

All these and more are part of the ongoing conversations we as marketers have with customers to help support our sales organization. One of the best parts about it to me, though, is how much I continue to learn about the needs of our customers and prospects, and the operational and competitive challenges they face in their businesses every day. That knowledge helps me be a better marketer, strengthens our sales organization, and makes Océ a stronger company that offers a better value to our customers.

Credibility & Integrity

It many ways, it really comes down to building credibility and having integrity. These are big words, but in my family they are king, and we teach their meaning to our children--setting expectations. Likewise, our marketing team works with our sales staff to educate and share experiences. The only way to build credibility is to communicate and continually ask appropriate and open-ended questions, and show that you understand and care about a company's business. Then there's integrity, which comes from doing what we promise every time, and finding the solutions a customer needs so their business can be successful.

We know the marketplace, our products and the competition. For marketers, it’s the matter of communicating that knowledge to the customer in ways that are straightforward and easy to understand. It's really all a lot of fun, and with a great line of products and more on the way (stay tuned for some important announcements), this is a great time to be in this industry.

No matter what they say, the marketing of products does have its place. Personally I’m glad Océ invented the food coloring for margarine to make it look more like butter. Who would have thought that 130 years of success started from that simple marketing idea!