Does Marketing Have a Glass Ceiling?


June 14, 2016

I was catching up with a fellow marketer the other day. One of the things that we both hear over and over is that marketing’s tired of not having credibility. Marketers want more responsibility, more influence and more respect. They want a seat at the infamous table.

Both of us have been in marketing for a long time. Decades. And we’ve seen a lot of change. Especially in the last few years.

But one things hasn’t changed. This complaint.

I wondered when this became such a sticking point for marketers. Here’s what I found…

In 2004, Ninmalya Kumar wrote the book, Marketing as a Strategy: Understanding the CEO’s Agenda for Driving Growth and Innovation. Kumar was a professor of marketing at the London Business School and also served on the faculty of Harvard Business School, the International Institute for Management Development (Switzerland) and Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He’s one of the world’s great thinkers on strategy and marketing. Clearly, the guy knew his stuff.

Kumar pointed out that “…true market orientation does not mean becoming market-driven; it means that the entire company obsesses over creating value for the customer and views itself as a bundle of processes that profitably define, create, communicate and deliver value to its target customers.”

This was more than a decade ago when Kumar said marketing’s role needed to change. To focus on delivering value to customers. How can it be 12 years later and marketing still struggles so much with understanding what value looks like, much less how to deliver it?

It isn’t as if Kumar is the only one to bring up the idea of marketing driving business growth. I dug a little deeper.

In 1983, the Journal of Marketing Practice published an article called, “New technology and the changing role of marketing.”

“Marketing practice is increasingly being affected by new technologies, creating opportunities and threats for marketing practitioners. Much of the literature has concentrated on effects external to the firm such as the Internet’s impact on market structure, or new business paradigms. However, the research reported on here highlights how new technologies are acting as internal agents of change, forcing firms to adapt to new processes, which in turn are disrupting existing hierarchies. The paper makes the case that this disruption will create opportunities for marketers, who have hitherto failed to be seen as key players at board level. It has been argued that marketing’s focus needs to move to internal management and facilitation in order to enable enterprisewide market orientation to emerge as the dominant ethos of the firm.”

Twenty-three years ago the literature for our profession pointed out that we, as professionals, have a bleak outlook if we want exactly what we’re still asking for today – influence, credibility and a seat at the table. That’s a generation of marketers ago.

Back to the conversation that my friend and I were having…if the idea of marketing driving the growth of the business has been around for more almost a quarter of a century, and we’re making progress at a snail’s pace, why is that?

It’s it the organization’s perception of marketing and what can be delivered?


Are we so busy wringing our hands waiting for influence – and worrying that we’ll never get it – that we’ve created our own glass ceiling…an invisible barrier that keeps marketers from moving up in the hierarchy of our business?

I’d argue that it’s mostly the latter. To many CEOs, it’s obvious what sales, finance, IT and HR bring to the mix. Marketing…not so much. Our traditional role is too squishy for them to see obvious contribution to the business. When there’s a financial bump in the road and budgets get cut, who gets hit first? Marketing. If we can’t prove the value and ROI of the basics, how can we move beyond the barriers of perception for what we do?

Marketers can’t argue our position if we don’t understand what business value we should deliver. It’s not about what we bring to marketing. It’s about what marketing brings to the business. It better start with a conversation around drive growth, driving innovation and driving value for customers.

We can talk all we want about how marketing’s role is still changing. But the truth is that we’re having the same conversation that started before half the marketing workforce was probably born. If we want to get rid of the glass ceiling and go beyond middle management and middle influence, then we need to quit giving lip service to something we know isn’t happening – getting a seat at the table. We need to quit waiting for someone else to give us permission to exert influence in our businesses. And we need to get serious about mastering skills outside of marketing. When we’re serious about learning the business that we’re in, that’s when we’ll be take seriously about what we contribute.

In his intro to the This Old Marketing podcast a few weeks ago, Robert Rose brought up an interesting statistic. On average, people make 35,000 decisions a day. He said that most big decisions are really micro decisions in the moment. How many of those decisions are really life changing or business transforming or in some way strategic?

This is where and how we begin turning the direction of our profession. It isn’t one big presentation to the C-suite that makes a difference. It’s all the small decisions we make thousands of times a day that add up. We’ll make 35 decisions a minute during our waking hours. How do each one of those small decisions move the big picture forward?

As Robert points out, it’s only in hindsight that we see the totality of the little decisions as life changing. And it’s only in hindsight that we can see that laissez faire with each of the little decisions means that we make no decision. And decisions by default means that we end up with no progress. No progress that stretches over decades.

How do we break marketing’s glass ceiling? One decision at a time.

What micro decisions are you making every day that will tally up to big change not only for you as a professional. But for the marketing profession as a whole.

Photo credit: Flickr user linspiration01

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.