Why few marketers are invited to join boards of directors

A little bit about me, and my relationship with marketing. I have every American consumer’s basic experience with marketing, but all of my work experience is with biotech/pharmaceutical startups. By circumstance, that makes my business experience with marketing essentially zero.

This does not mean that I am unaware of the conceptual benefits of good marketing. In my mind, the marketing department is very much like the sensory organs of a business. They exist at that interface where the company ends, and the competitive world begins. It is my intuition that a good marketing department plays a holistic role in understanding the competition, in understanding the customer, in positioning the product to succeed, and in communicating unmet wants to internal stakeholders. This last responsibility, identifying and communicating unmet wants, is of great strategic importance. It is the conceptual beginning of any new product, and it is a starting point for Research and Development.

Given my attitudes, you can imagine my surprise at reading the title of a recent Forbes article entitled “Why few marketers are invited to join boards of directors”. The meat of that article consists of a discussion on some new research released by the Marketing Science Institute (MSI) that demonstrates that marketing experience is not valued on boards of directors, and asserts that boards that include marketing professionals see a statistically significant bump in shareholder return(so it would be valuable to have marketing expertise on boards). The article concludes with a Q&A between the author and John Hoffmire, PhD, Associate Fellow at Said Business School, Oxford University. He asserts that it is his belief, and that of the greater business community, that marketers have no place on boards. He goes on to say that marketing is inherently tactical, and that boards should be focused on strategic issues, that marketing is all about “luck”, and that marketers don’t add meaningful value to the firm, as compared to operations.

I am in complete disagreement with Dr. Hoffmire as to the potential benefits of having a marketing perspective on a board. I can easily imagine a marketing professional providing strategic insights that cannot be provided from other departments, I think marketing can be quantitatively driven, and that marketers add value by providing a service. As we progress further into the Anthropocene, and the internet era matures, marketing departments are only gaining better, and cheaper, information about their customers. It is leading to stronger customer relationships, and it is providing a much better quantitative understanding of customer wants. This quantitative understanding of customer wants could have an unprecedented effect on the product development cycle, leading to faster and more reliable product development, introduction, and refinement. All of this will require oversight from a generation of marketing managers with facility in both qualitative and quantitative areas. The effect of their absence from boards will only become more apparent as time goes on.

To throw in the required sports analogy, marketing is responsible for handling that last ten yards to the customer. Without skilled communication and strategy in those last ten yards, objectively superior products can fail. I only have to think of VHS and Betamax.

I can only surmise that my ideal marketing professional is far from the reality. Is there a dearth of good marketing professionals? Are marketing departments systemically bad? I just don’t get it. What could drive this perception on boards?

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