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The Next C-Suite Battle: HR Versus Marketing


The Next C-Suite Battle: HR Versus Marketing

As business has become more complex and more digitally-driven, the traditional roles and responsibilities of the C-suite have become increasingly interwoven and even confrontational.

In recent years C-suite titles have proliferated beyond all recognition and spurred many debates – Do organization’s really need a Chief Digital Officer or not? – and more importantly, heated debate about where budget control and accountability should lie.

The overlap between the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has been well documented for the past decade. With so many emerging technologies and digital channels falling under the purview – and accountability – of Marketing, it’s hardly surprising that Gartner believes CMO budget expenditure will exceed the CIO expenditure this year. Even if there is a liberal sprinkling of hyperbole in all the usual forecasts and predictions, you need only look at the exploding LUMAscape for marketing technology and the ascendency of a CMO-as-technology-buyer isn’t a surprise. Its an inevitability.

In recent months, the number of highly-publicized and much derided snafus in the airline industry suggest to me another impending C-suite battle. This time not over pixels, but over people. A confrontation will be between Marketing and Human Resources.

Here are three areas where I see this playing out.

1. Purpose Over Policy

Purpose has become one of the hottest areas in management thinking in the past few years. It has become a central mandate of Marketing in many organizations as executives seek new ways to differentiate themselves to prospective clients but also to prospective employees.

Popularized by Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why, purpose is typically seen as the ultimate articulation of why an organization exists, where traditional descriptors like Mission Statements defined what an organization was doing to become successful.

What’s more Purpose is seen to actually drive performance and help with both employee acquisition and retention. In their popular book Corporate Culture and Performance John Kotter and James Heskett drew significant parallels between organization’s with a strong purpose and financial performance. And, as we all know, anything that positively impacts the bottomline gets CEO attention.

Historically this hasn’t been the domain of HR. Instead, HR has been more accountable for crucial tasks like labor relations, benefits and compensation, annual leave and annual reviews. These tasks center more on managing people within an organization rather than inspiring them. In a purpose-driven organization, the real opportunity doesn’t lie in articulating what is allowed but what is possible. Articulating that possibility lies firmly with the CMO today.

2. Culture As A Differentiator

Marketers spend their lives seeking to create – and market – a compelling differentiator to prospective customers. Tools like positioning statements and classic frameworks like the 4 P’s were built to determine and define these points of differentiation.

As access to markets and technology has obliterated the traditional barriers to entry in many categories, marketers have struggled to find those elusive differentiators. Even more elusive are differentiators that are sustainable and not easily copied by the competition. In many cases organizations are quickly realizing that their own culture is actually a point of differentiation and, considering how long it takes to nurture a great culture, it can’t be easily replicated.

Service-driven organizations are obvious examples where culture is absolutely a differentiator. Consider how different the experiences at Starbucks, Southwest, Zappos and The Four Seasons are from their competition. But its not just service organizations where culture contributes to success. Internet behemoths like Reed Hastings at Netflix and Jeff Bezos at Amazon both cite their cultures as reasons their organizations have been able to capture market share and mind share so adroitly.

If culture can create meaningful and sustainable differentiation, and that differentiation drives customer preference and loyalty, it is inevitable that forward-thinking CMO’s will want to ensure they have a very firm hand in both creating and nurturing their organizational culture.

3. Brand Experience = Customer Experience AND Employee Experience

In reality all brand experiences are a culmination of an expertly managed customer experience – and that’s often not feasible unless equal rigor is applied to the employee experience.

Simplistically speaking, marketing creates a promise in the market. But invariably it is employees who fulfill or fail on that promise when customers come calling. Case in point, United’s promise of “Fly The Friendly Skies” quickly became fodder for Senate hearings, late night comics and internet memes when their gate crew were anything but friendly. The disconnect between marketing promise and employee fulfillment couldn’t be starker.

It is not surprising then that employee experience initiatives are a rapidly growing area for consultancy engagements and F100 company investment. Both realize that spending time on internal audiences (employees) can be even more important than time spent on classic CX and UX endeavors. Author of the excellent book What Great Brands Do Denise Lee Yohn penned this HBR article that outlined all elements of the employee experience journey and how focusing resources (and investment) on each stage would drastically increase not only the caliber of the staff an organization hired but also the critical level of engagement those employees would have.

If creating a world-class brand experience remains the remit of CMO’s, and without fully-engaged employees that’s not possible, it stands to reason that employee experience and engagement should fall under that remit too.

For the record, as a long-time marketing veteran my opinion is entirely subjective. I’m certainly not debating the capability and competency of HR veterans merely suggesting that responsibilities like employee engagement, culture, employee experience are going to become areas of sharper focus if organizations want to avoid the social media outrage currently aimed at the airline industry.

Ultimately collaboration, not confrontation, is the hallmark of any well-functioning leadership team. Just as the CMO and the CIO had to find ways to work together to map a successful path forward, the CHRO and CMO will need to find a way to harness the very best of their unique experience and individual acumen.

In the future a “people, not pixels” mantra will be a source of competitive advantage so marrying Marketing and Human Resources will be absolutely critical.

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our purpose, mission, vision and values and brand culture workshops.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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