Mr. Firestone credits his time at Amex and similar roles at Ameritech, IBM, and Xerox with strengthening his skills in business strategy, finance, and line marketing. This combination of talents was critical to his being tapped for the corporate role at Xerox, where he is a member of the turnaround team that recently redefined and reorganized the company around three distinct sets of customers and business economics. Xerox is currently building up the marketing organizations in these businesses to restart their growth engines.
Still, people like Jim Schroer and Jim Firestone are all too rare. An executive recruiter discussing the growing need for strategic marketers recently said she didn’t “think there are 50 people in the U.S. who have fully developed the skills required to do this role well.”
The SM Inside You
With that kind of talent gap, all companies face the test of developing and deploying this new strategic marketing capability from within.
The process must start at the top. CEOs should seek to identify and advance middle managers with the potential to develop the full mix of strategic marketing skills. That means changing the expectations for marketing people. They must understand they’ll need both the hard (analytical) and soft (intuitive) aspects of the job. They will also have to be both planners and implementers.
Companies should also rethink the career path of marketing and business strategy professionals, to better groom men and women to assume these new responsibilities. This will likely mean rotating high-potential business strategy staff into line marketing roles, and vice versa.
Companies should begin now to create new roles and processes to harness strategic marketers’ skills and insights. At Capital One, the position is even called a new business brand development manager. A staff position, it involves serving as a partner with business-unit general managers to analyze the market, define opportunities, and plan and align marketing activities across business functions and marketing disciplines. GE is filling a series of such positions, one for each industry sector (aerospace, industrials, etc.) to work with the leaders of the various GE businesses in that sector. In both cases, the goal is the same: to accelerate top-line growth while also building strategic marketing capabilities. Over time, the people in these roles will become candidates to take over as chief marketing officer for one of the company’s businesses.
For many companies, such changes couldn’t come a moment too soon. Too often, marketing is synonymous with marketing communications. Decisions about target customers and value propositions are being made by “marcom” staff and their agencies, whose work influences little more than the next advertising campaign, rather than guiding other marketing elements as well, such as product development, channel management, and pricing.
Because they have emphasized communications uber alles, marketers have drifted further from the seat of power in large companies. For their own good — and for the good of the companies they serve — they have little choice but to become strategic.
Reprint No. 03201
Steve Silver, [email protected]
Steve Silver is a partner at Helios Consulting Group, a marketing strategy consulting firm with offices in New York and Chicago. Before joining Helios, he was a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton in New York and Tokyo and a senior executive at Wunderman Cato Johnson, the direct marketing subsidiary of Young & Rubicam Inc.