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A reported 80 percent of CEOs neither trust their marketers nor are impressed with their work. After 15-plus years of being a marketer, I’m shocked by how few organizations get their CEOs closely aligned with their marketing teams.
On one hand, we expect our CEOs to lead by example with their vision for where our companies belong in the market and how to best serve our customers. But on the other hand, companies have the perception that CEOs have more important responsibilities — that someone who intimately understands the business should not have to get in the trenches and actually execute on the messaging that makes or breaks the business.
The notion that CEOs shouldn’t be very involved in marketing sounds ridiculous if we think of it this way. It’s even truer for founder-CEOs, who live and breathe their companies’ missions day in and day out.
Yes, CMOs still need to own the results of the marketing organizations they lead, but CEOs should have a clear, unifying role that not only brings the company together on what the strategic messaging really should be but also sets the tone for marketing to be a profitable business driver, not a cost center.
It’s not enough for marketing to just get clicks anymore; at the end of the day, your company needs to make money. As CMO at Nextiva, here are three strategies I’ve used over the years to empower our CEO to be in the driver’s seat of marketing and bring our results to new heights.
1. Spend 15 percent of your time looking at customer feedback and debriefing your CEO
Most companies have their marketing and customer support teams operate almost entirely disjointed, where marketers plan and launch campaigns to reach new customers and customer support helps existing customers navigate their concerns.
These processes, in reality, should go hand-in-hand. And while CEOs don’t have the bandwidth to listen in on every customer support call, being completely entangled in C-suite responsibilities results in a detachment from the people that really matter: your customers.
That sounds obvious, but if you think about it, most executives don’t hear directly from customers. Their reasoning is that they’re too busy handling other responsibilities; it’s always a question of time. But when decision-makers are disconnected from the people that fuel their business, they can’t make the right decisions and it shows in their off-target messaging.
That’s why, starting in 2018, I began spending about 15 percent of my time at work every day monitoring apps such as Talkwalker and Reddit and review sites such as TrustRadius, Capterra and G2 Crowd to get a sense of how our customers feel about our product. Sometimes I will personally answer a customer support call to better understand what our customers are struggling with and how we can make our product easier to use.
Then I sit down with our CEO and brief him on the following issues.
Negative reviews and responses to them. Are other customers defending our brand from negative reviews? Do they generally agree with the criticism?
Particular wording that positive reviews use to clearly and concisely express what they like about what we’re doing. Can we use some of these keywords in our marketing copy?
General questions about differentiation. What are the confusions, if any, about how our company is different from another brand — particularly one that’s better-known?
The beauty of a process like this is that by observing this feedback daily and making your CEO aware of it, it becomes harder for your company to overcomplicate messaging, miss the audience or leave questions of differentiation unaddressed.
Over time this culture of customer empathy flows from the top down and its impacts go far beyond that of the marketing organization itself.
2. Set up conversations about macro trends with industry analysts and other experts
While getting into the nitty-gritty of how people are feeling about your product or service can help you better align day-to-day marketing objectives, understanding broader industry trends helps calibrate and validate whether your brand messaging would resonate with your target market outside of your existing customer base.
To do this, some companies will buy industry reports or hire a market research firm to help them do some due diligence. But for most companies, particularly start-ups, you might not have allocated capital for these initiatives or you may find industry reports to be lengthy and unspecific in addressing your particular needs.
A little-known strategy we’ve been using for a few years now is having our marketing team work with our CEO to prepare presentations and questions for industry analyst panels.
During these panels your CEO can discuss the current marketing initiatives on the road map, get critiques about them and ask experts who have studied successful and unsuccessful marketing campaigns in your niche what they’ve seen to be determining factors in that success.
These panels not only are free to attend but also provide a good pulse on pricing strategy, promotion strategy and campaign messaging — all of which can help your CEO better align with marketing on where the best opportunities are.
And by making sure your CEO is the one attending and preparing for these panels periodically, you can ensure that leadership, starting from the top, is able to execute on the differences between your daily customer feedback cycle and where the industry is moving.
3. Support your CEO to run weekly company-wide e-mails detailing top objectives
After seeing how existing marketing initiatives on the road map play into capitalizing on long-term macro trends, it’s simply not enough for CEOs to direct their CMOs to execute on objectives.
We already expect CEOs to lead with their vision and find opportunities for market differentiation. But when that vision and road map are inaccessible outside of the C-suite, the majority of your team members, who are putting in the time to execute, aren’t aligned on the handful of critical points.
On the other hand, a CEO who provides cohesive and transparent guidance on how their company’s overarching vision is changing allows their marketing, sales and engineering teams to come together and strengthen company messaging with various perspectives.
Over the past few years, we’ve personally witnessed our CEO’s company-wide marketing strategy e-mail messages making our teams more cross-functional and making clearer that what they’re working on has a larger purpose.
To make e-mail messages more effective in influencing company-wide marketing, marketing leaders can support their CEO by helping them make sure their messages include the following information.
Events that have caused shifts in the market
Actions that need to be taken as a result of these events or new initiatives
Why we’ve made such decisions, per our company’s mission
By communicating these points, a CEO demonstrates the importance of observing market shifts, allowing the company to maintain its competitive advantage organization-wide, and shows that a company walks the talk through its actions.
A marketing caveat
While having your CEO get more involved in your marketing organization can be a tremendous value add, CMOs still ultimately have to own the results of the campaigns that follow.
The two may butt heads over messaging or the approach through which it should be executed. In such cases, there needs to be a clear conflict-resolution process.
For instance, perhaps in the case of a close disagreement, whoever feels more passionate about the direction gets priority. Whatever your conflict-resolution process may be, it needs to exist — and the conversation should happen as soon as possible.