Marketing needs to learn to speak C-suite language

Projest GroupBy David Edelman

I read a great interview with my colleague, Jonathan Gordon, and Brian Solis (Marketing learns to speak the C-suite’s language) – it provides a useful overview of the issues marketing is facing when interacting with the C-suite. What I love is the idea of speaking the right “language” because so much of leadership is effective communication.

And I’m not just talking about getting rid of jargon (will anyone join me in a pact never to use the word “leverage” as a verb?) although the lack of clarity and often fuzzy thinking that jargon hides is a big problem in marketing. That’s a separate posting. What I mean about the breakdown in language is that marketing often doesn’t value what CEOs or CFOs or CIOs do. If the CFO wants to talk about return to shareholders and the CMO is talking about number of followers, you’ve got a communications problem. If the CEO wants to talk about business strategy and the CMO wants to talk about TV advertising campaigns, you have a communications issue. CMOs need to become fluent in the language of strategy business goals, business KPIs, return on sales, and business ROI if they want to have the influence they should be able to exert in the C-suite.

That communications issue doesn’t just stop at the C-suite. Within marketing itself, there’s a massive communications problem. You have hard core data scientists doing some serious number crunching but they don’t know how to speak to the creatives. A lot of great analysis is just ignored because marketers don’t understand it. As Jonathan put it: “In many ways, data is a communications issue. Too often analytics is so dense that executives just don’t have the time to wade through it.” Then there’s the breakdown between the design of the product of the experience and its delivery to the front lines, where expectations and incentives just aren’t clear enough for people to act on.

Of course this isn’t all about communications. This is about effective processes, analytics, and strategy that reaches across functions. But ignoring this language issue is a mistake. I really like the way Brian put it: “What’s missing is the “human algorithm,” the connection between data, people, and trends that’s presented in a tangible and visceral way to help executives make decisions.”

Sometimes I think what companies need is an army of translators between functions so people on different teams can understand each other.

So, how are you handling your “internal language” issues?