Board-level Marketers are Linked to Higher Performance


As companies venture to thrive in the digital age, an emerging goal among the successful has been to instill a sense of urgency to diversify the way businesses interact with consumers and pursue deeper engagement with them. In a recent interview, Kim Whitler, former CMO for several big-name companies and Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, seeks to prove through research that bringing marketing experience onto boards can be the answer companies are searching for.

Listen to the full interview with Kim Whitler – Episode 16 on the Avid Impact Podcast

When thinking with a CEO brain, you would want to measure marketing performance before embarking on a journey toward it. However, there isn’t a universal answer. Academics measure marketing outcomes with countless different metrics, and practitioners utilize even more. In conclusion, Whitler asserts, “The way in which you measure marketing will be dependent upon the industry you work for or the company you work in and how they actually measure marketing.” In the words of interviewer, Alan Hart, the definition is “tailored to your industry.”

Rather than groping for a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring marketing, Whitler’s research instead explores the effect of marketing on boards. Whitler sought to answer the question “What is the unique contribution of marketers in the firm?” In other words, what itch does marketing scratch that other functions cannot reach? “They all affect efficiency, they all affect profitability,” she says, “but the unique contribution that marketers, we believe, will contribute at the board level is an understanding of how to generate demand given external conditions, internal competencies, and the consumer.” To be frank, research says marketers do a better job of being externally focused and market oriented. Marketers bring insight about the consumer, competition, and marketing into the firm in a way that exponentially impacts revenue growth. “Our research shows that. We demonstrate that marketers on the board help increase firm performance, specifically revenue growth.”

Yet anecdotal evidence shows that, since the 90s, marketers have been declining as a percentage of the board. Post Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002, every board was required to have a CFO. As the size of boards have reduced over the years, the ancillary roles that were filled by the nominally represented experiences have been the first to go while the boards bring on more and more finance and accounting expertise to deal regulation. Despite this decline, the effect of marketing is clear in Whitler’s research. “Those firms that… have a marketer on them, post the financial collapse, significantly outperformed their peers that did not. [In terms of growth], we find strong evidence that marketers on the board can have a positive impact.”

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