Dear CMO:

I know Power Point and email are waiting, but I was hoping you could clear something up for me. Since when did “CMO” begin standing for “Chief Advertising Officer”? Sure, we all aspire to direct, but for now remember that your job is about selling stuff.

Marketing is the science of predicting the human behavior that ends up with someone buying your stuff. Marketing is a science. If you think marketing is an art, you belong in sales. Marketing uses scientific principles, from statistical analysis to anthropology to heavy doses of psychology, all of which – not coincidentally – requires an artist’s touch. That’s what makes it such a fun job to do and what makes it such a hard discipline for non-marketers to understand.

Which brings us back to you. You are paid to provide incremental volume and must show financial accountability. Good news! You have LOTS of tools to choose from. So why is advertising the only shiny toy you play with? Sure, you may like public relations, websites, and sometimes even packaging, but these are delegated so you can concentrate on the budgetary Big Dog. But have you kept the idea of big “R” divided by small “I” equals good “ROI” in mind? If you start with this in mind, instead of the size of your ad budget, your journey takes you somewhere else.

Let’s do the math to prove this point. Place a single thirty second spot on CSI: Miami once a week for a month and you have now impressed about 80 million pairs of eyeballs at a cost of a little over two million dollars. Now let’s assume you don’t have two million dollars. Consider that a major electronics retailer will also have 80 million impressions walking through their front door in that same month. And then consider that a display in that chain sells more than a commercial. Every time. And costs about as much as your LA production team’s catering budget.

It’s heresy, I know, but traditional advertising is more often than not a losing proposition. A significant body of research points says that most consumer advertising doesn’t pay for itself. Compound this with the growing ubiquity of DVR’s; the shaky financial propositions of PR, product placement and, often, online; and the growing concern over financial accountability. These marketing weapons in your arsenal are pretty light.

Against this we have the pragmatic world of the channel. Merchandising in-store sells more stuff. It visually promotes the brand by showing more product and through signage, co-op advertising, and in-store support. This implied endorsement of the influencers on the retail floor and the resulting social proof moves the needle. It’s tactical because it sells something today – remember the ‘accountability’ discussion, above? – but not so tactical that it fails to deliver the strategic brand message. Branding in the channel hits you when you’re off your couch, on your feet, with your wallet in your hand and in a mind-set to buy. Do you really still think that an in-store impression is inferior to TV?

Do not despair. Advertising is not dead. All I’m suggesting here is that marketing, and the central role of marketers, is to sell more stuff. And to do this, they must use the tools that work the best.

You are not the Chief Advertising Officer. Rise up and own marketing. Understand your role as “Chief Incremental Volume, Profitable Growth and Positive ROI Agent”. Embrace the heavy lifting of channel marketing, the mechanics of the sales process, and the mundane world of commerce that is ultimately paying for your new Lexus. It may be distasteful at first and most of your peers won’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but it will prolong your tenure and make your boss, and shareholders, happy.

And if we can all embrace the fact that a display sells more stuff than a TV spot, what other sacred cows may fall next? You may end up having lunch with a sales guy or leaving the office to meet face to face with end users. You will eat fewer M&M’s behind the glass. Maybe even order red wine with fish. Who knows. No need to rush this point. One step at a time is fine.


Copyright (c) 2006 Stephen Denny