• Victoria Searl

Why you must bring marketing into your boardroom sooner

It’s fascinating watching the evolution of a hospitality business. Site one, two and three take off – it’s time to get some financial expertise in. Site four onwards sees heavyweight HR and operational support drafted in. By site ten, there might even be a commercial director.

Somewhere between site four and never, the search begins for a marketer – although no one involved in the process seems to know why they need one or can articulate the value they will bring to the business (other than bringing the operations team’s ideas to life). So they hire someone junior and give them a budget of nothing to work wonders with. Of course, this does not work, so the marketer is exited and everyone agrees that marketing is just a cost this business cannot afford.

Years go by, and eventually the business (and then often only because the investors have made noises about marketing), makes a big hire. By this time, the culture of the business is firmly established, and while the marketer’s role is described as being strategic in the job description, it becomes clear it’s rather more about actioning operations’ requests and cheerfully trying to stay on top of the often-nonsensical whims of the man in charge.

And so marketers become frustrated, knowing they can offer more; marketing becomes increasingly perceived as a cost centre rather than a smart investment, and while the profile of operations, HR and finance rises, marketing does not get a serious seat at the boardroom table.

So let’s rewind and ask ourselves what could have happened had we thought differently about the role of marketing from the start.

The business, which, of course, need operations, HR and finance in place, invests in heavyweight marketing support from the start – even if only part time. Everyone involved is clear on how marketing can significantly increase revenue by driving new customer acquisition, converting existing customers through targeted communications and using what we know about those customers to retain them for longer.

Finance stops talking about marketing as a cost, operations defer to the skills of the marketer rather than just emailing them daily with urgent requests, and HR feels empowered to attract a team that will best bring the brand to life.

Now if you’re a marketer, you might well be thinking, er, sounds great Vic, but how do I do that acquisition, conversion and retention thing? Well how would anyone know how to build communications and campaigns that resonate with the right people at the right time and increase sales and return on investment – intelligence.

Operators have systems and spreadsheets full of it, detailing everything from margin and labour percentages to NPS to sales and cost forecasting.

Finance has P&Ls going back years, while HR has churn models and exit interviews. The big boss himself will have reporting, insight and consultancy coming from every direction.

So what does the marketer, head heavy with the weight of the sales-driving crown, have? Usually nothing more than a pointless colour-coded plan, built on the collective gut instinct of the business – which, if you squint your eyes a bit, looks suspiciously like the previous one (and the one before that).

So, with the long slog of recovery ahead and 40% of your customer base (Generation Z) being an alien concept to most of the leadership team, where does this marketing intelligence come from? Data is the answer.

By organising the “proof of presence” and zero/first-party data sitting in your Wi-Fi, pay-at-table, CRM, feedback and booking platforms, and analysing it to identify and profile your key customer groups and trends, it’s possible to monetise it by turning insight into smart and targeted action – bringing it to life with the innovation, empathy and creativity marketing is so brilliant at.

Marketing can stop being dismissed as the “colouring-in department” by lazy colleagues who have never bothered to find out what marketers are capable of or why every single one of the top 100 brands in the world puts marketing front and centre as a matter of routine – and can rightfully claim its place as the sales-driving, business resilience-building, vital voice of the customer in the boardroom.

Because if you’re not putting your customers at the heart of your marketing now, (100% of respondents in a recent DataHawks survey said they could not confidently say who their most valuable customers were), in this era of personalisation – you’re going to find the next few years almost impossible to navigate. And your survival as a business will become more precarious by the day.




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