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Language Lessons for Marketers

Language Lessons for Marketers

December 19, 2014 0 Comments

shutterstock_218896384I closed my last post by commenting that smart marketers have to know how to speak “CEO” if they want to succeed. I have two anecdotes I’d like to share about this. My first proper social media CEO presentation was in 2008, where I was asked to present our social media progress and strategic marketing plan. It was an unmitigated disaster. I went in with hockey stick charts of follower and fan growth, and was met with questions about sales impact and strategic alignment with key customer profiles – questions that I should have been prepared to answer but couldn’t.

Never again I vowed. But I needed a framework for understanding the CEO mindset. I found it when I heard Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan speak about what he puts his VP of marketing through a month or two later. This blog post from Brian, written a few years later, explained why Brian promoted VP Mike Volpe to CMO, and outlines the approach that Mike took to earn that spot: as Brian put it, Mike built a “scalable lead generation machine.”

Now I have long appreciated the role of measurement. My graduate degree program at Michigan State University’s Department of Communication was heavily quantitative (a bit of a surprise for me given COM undergraduate programs’ typical reputation as the “College of Optional Math”). And my second PR hero (after my undergraduate professor Ned Hubbell) has always been Katie Delahaye Paine, who has spent the last two decades proving that PR can be measured with more than just ad equivalency rates.

But I, like many, suffered from the surfeit of measurement options that has come about since social media and technology have caught up with traditional marketing communications efforts. While marketing is fundamentally a business application of microeconomics, focused on pricing decisions with a few other factors added on (product, promotion and place), marketing communications professionals rarely start their career running pricing models and analytics. In other words, I was a communications guy with no formal business training trying to convince a business owner to make decisions about marketing strategy without any relevant business data to show.

I had a lot of data; but I had no idea what to do with those data. I had no way of turning the data into knowledge. The good news about social media is that you can measure (almost) everything. The bad news about social media is that you can measure (almost) everything. Deciding what to measure – for which stakeholders – is the hard part.

Brian’s presentation changed my view of marketing and social media. He, and the work Mike Volpe did, turned me on to one way to measure social media success. Mike’s CEO focuses on lead generation at a relatively tactical level, and his presentations are an excellent way to understand his language. But it’s not the only language that CEOs speak.

Not all the CEOs I’ve worked with speak lead gen. Others I’ve met speak marketing – they look at PR and marketing as “air support,” and rather than directly tracking against specific leads, they’re more likely to measure success by the happiness of the sales team with marketing efforts. One very simple success metric in this approach is fewer salespeople complaining that cold call prospects don’t recognize their company’s brand.

What language does your CEO speak? In my next post, I’ll identify four models of corporate management, and the kind of CEO that goes with each. Then we’ll discuss the communications implications for each.



Todd Van Hoosear

Todd Van Hoosear is vice president of public relations for Eric Mower + Associates' Boston office, where he helps clients in the engineering, mobile, cloud, networking, consumer technology and consulting spaces bring new ideas – and new takes on old ideas – to the market. He also teaches new media and public relations at Boston University, and serves as a Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Find him on Twitter at @vanhoosear. 

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