We underestimate the memory of consumers.
Marketers are constantly under pressure to evolve, and inside organizations there is usually a stream of comments that say the "look" is getting old and that the "brand" needs a refresh. But maybe this isn't the point. Or to clarify, maybe this is just more confusion between promotion and brand. Promotions need updating. Brands usually don't. Because even an old brand represents the connection to the consumer's memory and that connection lasts much longer than we think — for good or bad. (As Bill Green pointed out, people remember Enron too.)
But for me the real meat on this issue started occurring in the comments of the show notes for this episode. Some great points were made by Howie Goldfarb regarding the role of CMOs and the pressures they face.
During that conversation, Howie pointed out that CFOs hate the CMO role because they can't accurately measure performance. It all comes down to aggregate sales in the end, so a CMO is credited or blamed for a number that many times isn't even his or her direct responsibility. So is it any wonder that CMO tenures are so short?
Why Sales Can Be A Poor Measure for Marketing
That's when I posited that maybe CMOs are too beholden to the measurement of sales. Certainly we all are rewarded or penalized based on financial performance, but blaming marketing for a sales shortfall perpetuates more confusion about what a CMOs primary responsibility should be. Sales numbers are the responsibility of the sales department. Marketing's job is to preserve and nurture buyer interest and brand equity. When those objectives are confused, we wind up with brands that communicate financial objectives, rather than an interest in long-term relationships. This can generate sales in the short term, but over the long-haul people remember that your brand doesn't care. Or worse, it confuses them to the point that they no longer know who you really are.
The brand is the most valuable asset a company has and it's often viewed as nothing more than an ad campaign. Yet consider CompUSA and Circuit City. Their ad campaigns did nothing to save them, but their brands remained valuable enough to rebirth in new hands and become successful once again. Or consider the rebranding of Mr. Pibb as "Pibb Xtra." People refused to even call it by the new name and continued to order it as "Mr. Pibb," until finally they had to change back to the original name.
Brand memory lasts much longer in the consumer's mind than we give credit. Isn't that insight worth something to your organization? And shouldn't we find better ways to evaluate the person charged with protecting and preserving this asset?
I'd love to hear some opinions about this. How should the performance of a CMO be evaluated? Is it really important to distinguish what marketing does as opposed to what sales does? Should the two be more closely aligned or separated further? Have at it.