Taking Measure: Empowering Accountability

Is marketing abdicating its ownership of marketing accountability? It's starting to seem that way. At the recent Institute for International Research conference on return on marketing investment, virtually the only marketers in attendance were speakers. Nearly all the attendees were either vendors or people from research and finance organizations. Increasingly, I see functions other than marketing taking the lead on accountability.

Case in point: At a major consumer packaged goods company, the finance department led an effort to build an accountability program. The information technology department was a major contributor in defining the tools requirements. Research was involved in vetting analytic methodology and credibility criteria. But marketing was "too busy" to participate in any of the meetings.

This might be an extreme case, but not by much. Often, marketing departments are aware of accountability efforts, but offer only lukewarm support and little active participation. Finance and research privately comment on marketing's "passive aggressive" behavior, believing it doesn't really want to be accountable. Based on discussions with several chief marketing officers, I don't believe that's the case. Instead I think that marketing organizations are dealing with fundamental issues that make it difficult for them to lead accountability efforts.

Nearly every marketer I work with is struggling to manage basic program execution. As marketing plans begin shifting away from TV, they are becoming more splintered and complex. Programs are receiving more significant slices of the budget, but with little or no additional staff to plan and manage the execution. So strategies are being rushed out the door by junior marketers, while senior team members struggle to manage the exploding number of specialty agencies that are executing digital, buzz, sponsorship, wireless, branded content, experiential, and public relations-based programs. Marketers seem to regard any diversion of resources from these efforts as an intolerable risk.

Secondly, marketing organizations lack stability. The average tenure for a CMO is less than two years, and associate brand managers rotate assignments every 10 to 14 months. Rarely are people in place long enough to see programs go from conception to execution, so their rewards are based less on performance than on getting the programs to market. Finance and research departments are more stable, giving them a longer-term perspective on the business, organizational memory, and a better foundation for leadership in marketing accountability.

Finally, marketing organizations know they don't have the expertise to develop accountability programs. They lack economics and metrics experience, quantitative skills, process design skills, and technology competence, which they see residing in other departments. So how can marketing more fully participate in marketing accountability efforts?

>> Shift the focus from marketing accountability to marketing effectiveness. The real goal is to have marketing dollars more effectively drive improved business results, not to hold people accountable for failure. Marketing effectiveness speaks to better planning and management, not after-the-fact evaluation.

>> Make the CMO the effort's champion. Consistent endorsement of a marketing effectiveness effort helps create the organizational pressure needed to change behavior. The CMO is best positioned to carry the flag.

>> Create a multifunction center of competence. Include marketing, finance, research, and it as part of the team. Create a multidisciplinary team and name a research or finance person to lead the group.

>> Fund the center of competence. Set aside 0.5 to 1 percent of working dollars for marketing effectiveness efforts. If well executed, those dollars will have the highest ROI of any dollars spent in the company.

>> Incorporate new skills and processes into the organization. To embrace marketing effectiveness, marketers must make significant changes. They will need to hire differently, rotate assignments less frequently, and be more process-oriented.

Marketers today are in a tough spot. They can't be accountable on their own, and they know it. Marketers need to partner with other functions to make marketing more accountable and effective.

John Nardone is chief client officer for Marketing Management Analysis. (

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