Five Steps to Improve Your Marketing Accountability


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First the good news! After several years of significant reductions, marketing budgets are expected to see some recovery in 2011. For example, according to a Forbes Insight survey three out of four marketing executives expected their marketing budgets to stay the same or to increase in their 2010-2011 fiscal year, with one-third expecting an increase.

Steven Noble of Forrester suggests that 2011 could look like 2010, when “marketing budgets rose cautiously at best.” But even so, 39 percent of respondents expected increases averaging 18 percent.

Source: Forrester (Marketing Budgets: It’s Time To Plan For A More Fortunate 2011)

Ah but there’s a small catch…marketers must demonstrate more accountability for the dollars. Steve Noble in his blog advises marketers “to focus on measurable program elements that are designed around business objectives. That sounds obvious, but the surprising truth is that many of the CMOs whom we surveyed said they were shifting budget to areas they considered “strategic,” which falls far short of this standard.” And the Forbes Insight study opens with “marketing departments are finding themselves under increasing pressure to justify their spending, prove the effects of their marketing campaigns, and demonstrate program success…or risk losing their budgets.”

The bottom line, as marketers we must still prove the business value of marketing, that is we must be ever more diligent and vigilant when it comes to marketing accountability.

What is marketing accountability?

Accountability has become another business buzz-word. We all think we know what the word means and we all think we do it. When you review the definition of accountability, it doesn’t really shed much light on its importance, “ac•count•a•bil•i•ty [uh-koun-tuh-bil-i-tee]: the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable.” (

We can turn to the AMA for a more specific definition. The AMA defines marketing accountability as:

“The responsibility for the systematic management of marketing resources and processes to achieve measurable gains in return on marketing investment and increased marketing efficiency, while maintaining quality and increasing the value of the corporation.”

Perhaps VEM’s (VisionEdge Marketing) perspective will help drive home the concept. Accountability is the measuring and monitoring of the commitment a person, group, or organization makes to deliver specific, defined results. We have found that accountable marketing organizations are both accountable to the financial and strategic initiatives of the organization. When marketing examines the ROI of a program it is addressing the financial side of the equation.

Measuring marketing’s commitment to moving the needle regarding market share growth or an increase in customer value are examples of being accountable for the strategic initiatives side of the equation. Both necessitate aligning marketing objectives with business outcomes and linking marketing to a company’s financial performance.

Performance Management Takes Measurement

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” This time-tested adage from management guru Peter Drucker applies now more than ever given the continuous scrutiny on marketing. Best-in-class marketers understand this idea all too well and are investing in the infrastructure (tools, systems, skills, processes) needed to develop a fully accountable performance-driven outcome-based marketing organization. These organizations aren’t only focused on being more efficient (reducing costs and waste), but improving their effectiveness and strategic value with laser-beam focus being on improving business results.

Notice two operative words: performance-driven and outcome-based. Accountability starts with an outcome, a result that needs to be accomplished. Marketers have tended to concentrate on outputs, the “stuff” we produce, and the ROI on these outputs. Best-in-class marketers are shifting from being output-oriented to outcome-based.

For example, rather than reporting on the number of people who attended a webinar and the associated ROI, these marketers are reporting on the number of qualified opportunities against the expected performance target for a webinar and how many of the opportunities ultimately converted into sales worthy prospects.

Performance-driven marketing organization leverage performance management techniques. Performance management is the process of measuring progress toward achieving key outcomes and objectives in order to optimize individual, group or organizational performance. VisionEdge Marketing research over the past nine years found that marketing performance management is a top priority for the C-Suite (CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc.).

The bottom line, as marketers we must still prove the business value of marketing, that is we must be ever more diligent and vigilant when it comes to marketing accountability.

The need for marketing to embrace performance management is not new. The Advertising Research Foundation study highlighted this finding back in 2000. Despite the number of tools added to the marketing arsenal, performance management remains elusive for many marketers. Why? In our work we have discovered that many marketing organizations lack the data and tools they need to measure and manage performance and those that have the tools and data often lack the analytics, metrics, performance targeting, and measurement sills. These problems will continue to plague marketing organizations until they focus on and acquire the analytical approaches and skills, the right data and data collection processes, and the right measurement skills and tools.

Most importantly accountable marketing requires develop meaningful action based measures and metrics. This year’s study by Unica (now part of IBM) found that turning data into action, measuring results and effectiveness remain among the top priorities for marketers.

Steps to Improve Your Marketing Accountability

There are two things every marketer can do to improve their accountability. First, ensure the link between marketing objectives and the associated programs, tactics and activities are directly linked to specific quantifiable business outcomes. Second, demonstrate the value of marketing by setting, monitoring and reporting on relevant measurable marketing objectives, metrics and performance targets to the leadership team.

Easier said than done you think? True. But these five initial steps will go a long way toward enabling you to start and accelerate this important journey.

  1. Conduct an audit to identify alignment, data and process gaps.
    It’s hard to know where to go and where to aim if you don’t know your current state. Use the audit to identify and add the right talent, systems, and tools to help automate marketing processes and improve marketing performance. Assess the crucial data, analytical and measurement skills your team needs and provide training.

  2. Create and adopt a performance measurement and management strategy, system and metrics and measurement framework that aligns marketing with the business outcomes.
    Design and select metrics and clear standards of performance that enables marketing to measure its impact, effectiveness, efficiency and value. It’s important to understand the select the right metrics. Marketing metrics should tie to our three primary responsibilities: acquiring, keeping and growing the value of profitable customers. Therefore the metrics we select should in some way indicate the impact marketing is having on market share, customer value, and customer equity.

  3. Engage the leadership team and form strategic partnerships with an extended team of finance, IT, sales, service, etc.
    In 2005 the Tuck School of Business facilitated an executive roundtable with nearly 20 CFOs and CIOs from some of the largest companies in the world, including Cisco, IBM, Eaton, Whirlpool and Citigroup. Why? Because CFOs and CIOs along with other members of the C-Suite “have increasingly become key partners in a variety of initiatives critical to business success.” Performance management is one of these critical business initiatives. CFOs often lead the internal discussion about metrics and performance management. CFOs are also taking the initiative to develop standard, consistent measurements that focus on leading indicators of value creation. CIOs and IT play a major role in creating and maintaining the infrastructure and data needed to support performance management. Marketing accountability is key to performance management. The elevation of their roles plus the leadership team’s renewed focus on productivity, business value and performance management require marketing to build bridges and allies finance and IT and engage them and other key members in the marketing performance management journey.

  4. Create and align processes, policies and practices that ensure the linkage between marketing objectives and programs with business results.
    As a result the marketing organization will be properly and strategically positioned and pulling in the same direction as the rest of the organization. Organizational development research has shown that proper alignment of people and organization’s result in higher productivity for less effort. When you have achieved alignment the link between marketing project, programs and initiatives and the broader company outcomes is explicit. And each member of the marketing team understands the impact of their daily activities on the outcomes. Once you take this step you will be able to prioritize projects based on their value and impact rather than what’s most familiar or easiest.

  5. Develop a multi-level dashboard to report performance and results in real-time to facilitate course adjustments and foster decision making. Make your marketing dashboard an iterative and collaborative effort. A good marketing dashboard facilitates decisions. If your marketing dashboard doesn’t enable you to make course adjustments, know what is and isn’t working, and communicate the value of marketing in financial and strategic impact terms then it’s time for a dashboard makeover.

For many marketing organizations these steps may require process and cultural changes. So marketing accountability is not a journey for the weak or timid. However, there have been enough studies over the years to suggest that by implementing marketing accountability you will be able to hold or add to your marketing budget AND you will become more effective at using marketing to drive business results.

This article is part of a free e-book for Chief Marketing Officers:
Strategic Roadmap for Digital Marketing
Learn how to engage with customers and create value for stakeholders in a complex digital world. Covers digital channels, marketing techniques, accountability and technology. (No registration required to view/download PDF.)

Laura Patterson
Laura Patterson is a recognized and trusted authority for enabling companies to take a customer-centric outcome-based approach to organic growth through the use analytics, accountability, alignment, and operational excellence. Laura's 25+ year career spans a variety of management roles and industries. Today she is at the helm of VisionEdge Marketing, founded in 1999, and is among the pioneers in MPM. She has a patent for the Accelance® framework designed to connect activities and investment to business results and has published four books, most recently Fast-Track Your Business.


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