Expect to start seeing more senior marketers with Mr. Heyer’s varied background. By the time this article is published, both General Electric Company and the Capital One Financial Corporation, after high-profile searches, will have filled senior marketing roles. Instead of looking for people skilled in dealing with ad agencies, media channels, and trade and consumer promotion programs, both companies were explicit that they were seeking men or women with a combination of management consulting and line marketing experience. They wanted people who could both rethink the conventions of brand management and partner with senior executives across functions in the organization to develop and execute marketing plans that achieve business goals.
What’s going on? Marketing strategy is growing up. In today’s low-growth, hypercompetitive economic environment, companies are increasingly trying to blend their business strategy and line marketing activities to generate incremental top-line growth out of existing businesses.
Identifying and prosecuting growth opportunities requires a broad skill set. Both business strategists and marketers have important components, but on their own, neither has the full complement of skills. Men and women trained in strategy consulting can be superb analysts of new market opportunities. They are able to identify emerging market trends and possible new products or business approaches that will capitalize on those trends. But their lack of tactical training means their insights often end up in a report sitting on the shelf, rather than firing up the marketplace.
Traditional marketers, on the other hand, can be great tacticians. They are adroit at shepherding an idea from the drawing board to the market. But, trained in a brand management system that emphasizes communications activities to achieve improvements in established businesses, their efforts are rarely of breakthrough quality — and, too frequently, are not quantifiable enough for senior management.
A new breed is needed: the “strategic marketer,” who is capable of managing the entire portfolio of a company’s brands and engaging all functions of the organization, not just communications. Strategic marketing requires people who combine the broad business perspective, cross-industry experience, cross-functional expertise, and deep analytical skills of management consulting with the subtle nuances of brand positioning and the action orientation of frontline marketing.
The need to gain strategic marketing capabilities will require firms to identify, attract, develop, and deploy people with the appropriate mix of skills earlier than their competitors. Companies won’t necessarily have to look outside, though. The need for strategic marketers is also an opportunity for today’s managers to increase their value to their current organization — or their attractiveness to other employers — by mastering this new combination of art and science.
Executives hoping to reskill and reposition themselves, though, will probably have to take control of their own development. The brand management system — the traditional source of marketing education and skilled marketers — has proven inadequate to the challenge of producing strategic marketers.
Brand management’s primary focus has been the development and execution of communications programs to achieve quarterly business goals. Certainly, many companies have attempted to build more integrated and sophisticated marketing structures and processes. In the 1990s, for example, technology companies such as IBM and the Microsoft Corporation, recognizing their weaknesses in this area, retained experienced senior brand marketers to institutionalize marketing as a capability. But even as they built customer databases, launched branding campaigns, and hired integrated marketing experts, they still kept the capabilities in discrete geographic or product units. Marketing remained tactical, generally removed from the centers of strategy and power, and fragmented — certainly not able to orchestrate the resources of an entire company across functions or units.