OPINION: Why CEOs must back marketers' products focus

When McKinsey's Anthony Freeling told delegates attending the Marketing Society's conference last week that chief executives are looking for bold and innovative ideas from their marketers, it was after he had also told them that chief executives are still unhappy with marketing's input to the business.

While chief executives want to develop new businesses, he said, marketing directors are too narrowly focused on developing new products. And, said Freeling, marketers spend too much with too little return.

But maybe it's time to look at whether chief executives get what they deserve. To put it another way, if they don't value marketing, marketing is very unlikely to add value.

Take some new research from consultancy Accenture. It found that while chief executives acknowledge the link between innovation and competitiveness, they struggle to turn ideas into income. The survey of 350 chief executives found that only one in ten strongly agreed that their organisation excels at innovation.

And whose fault is that? It's obvious. Unless the chief executive makes sure the people, processes and, critically, culture, are in place to turn innovative ideas into commercial opportunities, innovation hasn't a chance.

That this is the case is shown by a number of contradictory findings.

First, more than three quarters of the chief executives in the study insisted their people generated a sufficient number of worthwhile ideas, while two-thirds said their organisation's culture encourages innovation. Four out of five cited their customers as the most valuable external source of innovative ideas.

Unfortunately, getting on for half admitted they are commercialising less than a fifth of their promising ideas, with a measly 12% commercialising more than 60%. And while 46% say CEOs are primarily responsible for driving innovation, that leaves an awful lot who expect others - marketing, perhaps - to make sure it happens.

This is ultimately about a lack of leadership in terms of making sure there is an attractive enough array of products and services on offer. Consumers will pay for products and services, but only if they are innovative, and with features that are meaningful to them.

This emerges, ironically enough, from yet more research from Accenture.

A survey of 3500 consumers in the US and Europe found people happy to dig into their pockets despite reports saying US and European consumers have trimmed their spending.

Accenture has discovered there is significant latent demand for products and services across all economic and geographic segments, a strong preference for quality over price, and a desire for a broader range of products and services from which to choose.

This is bound to remain latent for the foreseeable future, with almost a third saying they believed most products and services created today offer them nothing new. And three quarters don't expect that to change over the next couple of years. Even more depressingly, the areas where consumers would be most willing to spend money are those that need it desperately: cars and consumer goods among others, are all struggling with declining profits.

There is something out of alignment here. Chief executives agree innovation is crucial. Consumers will pay for it. Blaming marketing for the failure to make the connection might be the easy option. But it's the wrong one.


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