Since the inception of the corporate communications role, we communicators have been careful to draw a distinction between our work and that of marketers. While they spoke of customers, we addressed audiences. They extolled product benefits. We burnished corporate reputations. They supported operations. We served the C-suite.
But these distinctions make no sense in the digital age. The same technologies that have destroyed any meaningful difference between internal and external communications are now dissolving the lines between marketing and communications. Digital and social media are the bedrock of both functions. Messaging, regardless of its origin or intent, is readily accessible to everyone, with the power to both shape perception and build consumer interest. In short, these two roles now share the responsibility for effective customer engagement.
This convergence has important implications for our profession. It means we must become articulate spokespeople not just for our company’s values, but for its value to customers. We must become conversant with the requirements for developing, nurturing and maintaining customer relationships, and build this knowledge into our planning. And we must learn to measure the impact of our work, for ourselves and our leadership, in the language that marketers have been using for decades — the language of growth.
It was 20 years ago that I first heard a leader say, “HITS are How Idiots Track Success.” Thankfully, our profession has moved on to more meaningful measures of the value of strong communications, including social influence, share of voice and favorability. While our sophistication has improved, the one word that we too infrequently use is growth. And that is precisely the word that every CEO wants to hear.
Perhaps the idea of measuring communications success in explicit bottom-line terms makes you squirm. But in our resource-constrained, fiercely competitive business world, we really have no choice. In the months and years ahead, I am convinced that our profession’s most successful and influential practitioners will be those with an intimate knowledge of their company’s customers, and a demonstrated ability to use this knowledge to drive the customer life cycle, from awareness to engagement and purchase, to retention and advocacy.
There is a big upside to this explicit new measure emerging on our dashboards. As more communications leaders embrace the language of growth and focus their teams on the tools and strategies that drive it, we will see more of them rise to the top leadership positions in their companies. There is a reason that 25 percent of all CEOs have a marketing background, according to a 2017 American Marketing Association study. The most progressive CMOs think like CEOs, understanding the mechanics and economics of their business, and always viewing decisions through the eyes of the customer they serve.
Truth is, we are all marketers now in this new digital age. We have the opportunity to make a serious impact on how — and how well — our organization attracts and retains its customers. It’s time to learn the language of growth and take our place at the leadership table.
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