What Do You Do If The CEO Doesn’t ‘Get’ Marketing?

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In a post titled Are Credit Union CEOs On The Mark With Marketing?, I asserted that:

“Credit unions are: 1) missing opportunities to make Marketing strategic by relegating the department to tactical activities, and/or 2) putting Marketing in difficult positions by giving them fuzzy, hard-to-measure objectives.”

This opinion came from seeing quotes from various credit union CEOs in Mark Arnold’s blog, each of which raise questions:

Quote: “Our marketing efforts need to be developed from the perspective of the consumer, not the credit union.”
Questions: OK, but which consumers? There are many different types of consumers the credit union is serving and could be serving. From which segment’s perspective should marketing’s efforts be developed? And how do we resolve prioritization issues when the segments’ perspectives differ?

Quote: “I want our brand to be consistent across all channels.”
Questions: What exactly does that mean? What is your “brand”?

Quote: “I would like our marketing to get us noticed by people that need our products and services. I want the message to reflect our commitment to community, our genuine concern for our fellow citizens and our professionalism. I also want a consistency in our marketing program that establishes an attractive, easily recognizable brand.”
Questions: HUH?

Quote: “I view marketing as making the introduction while the responsibility for turning the introduction into a relationship falls to the staff.”
Questions: Have you heard of online and mobile banking? Or online account opening? And does the “relationship”really start when the sales is made?

I qualified my assertion by wondering if the reported quotes were representative of the overall credit union CEO base.


Those quotes may or may not be representative, but I believe they come from CEOs who sincerely want to get more value from marketing, and to help their marketing departments deliver more value.

At the other end of the spectrum, representing the depths of cluelessness about marketing, are the following comments, from the CEO of a rather large credit union:

“While most of us believe in what we do, few professionals (create and then) accept their own press with as much full-gulp believability as do credit union marketeers. Marketing people are fun, brash and sophisticated – many with egos normally found only among CEOs!”

Four additional comments bear pointing out:

  • “Credit union marketing adds no appreciable value to the movement.”
  • “Any credit union product can be marketed when pushed with a sufficient lack of scruple.”
  • “Mama didn’t rear me to believe that a credit union should spend its existing members’ money simply to attract new members for the purpose of growth.”
  • “I never understood the non-profit, cooperative model as an effort to mirror our for-profit friends in “promising much and delivering as little as possible.”

My take: I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I’m not sure where to start here. This is beyond the pale. It’s not only an embarrassing public demonstration of the lack of understanding of the marketing function on the part of a CEO, but it’s a personal attack on the principles and professional integrity of credit union marketers. Incredulously, it impugns even the marketers at the CEO’s own credit union.


If marketing “adds no appreciable value,” then State Employees Credit Union should simply eliminate their marketing department and re-allocate the budget to those departments and functions that do add value.

I guess it’s in the “cooperative spirit” of the credit union movement that this CEO is letting his fellow credit union CEOs in on this secret regarding marketing’s inability to add value. Being the competitive jerk that I am, if I were CEO–and I believed this nonsense–I would quietly eliminate marketing, and let my competitors go on wasting their money. Competitive advantage to me.


The comment regarding spending “members’ money simply to attract new members for the purpose of growth” is particularly clueless. It isn’t even about marketing.

No smart credit union grows “for the purpose of growth.” It grows because: 1) there are people who are not currently being served by the credit union who would benefit by becoming a member of the credit union, and 2) growing the credit union enables it to invest in capabilities that better serve members.

To accuse Marketing of driving growth for the sake of growth is an indefensible accusation.


The accusation that for-profit financial institutions “promise much and deliver as little as possible” is really getting to be a tired comment. Lumping credit union marketers into that assertion–as if somehow their actions aren’t representative of the credit union they work for is ridiculous. Or maybe what this CEO was trying to do was impugn the whole credit union industry for acting like for-profit banks. But it seems to me that he was chiding just the marketing people.


To be useful, however, this post should really address the question: What do you (as a marketer) do if your CEO doesn’t get marketing (even if it’s not at the depths of cluelessness as the CEO cited above)?

1) Build support from other members of the executive team, and/or someone(s) from the board. With a marketing-clueless CEO, you need communication avenues with someone who does get marketing–or at least, gets it more than the CEO. You’ll also need those supporters to deliver messages about marketing to the CEO that you clearly can’t make yourself.

2) Develop a strong vision for marketing’s role, and track marketing’s contribution. This isn’t so much for the clueless CEO as it is for your own team. Like it or not, you’ll have to be the buffer between the CEO and your marketing team. You can’t let them get discouraged because the CEO doesn’t have an appreciation for what they do. (You can hope that he or she doesn’t air those clueless views publicly, however).


Bottom line: If you want to criticize the credit union industry, the credit union movement, and/or credit union regulators, go for it. Nobody knows better than I do that the best part about the Internet is the ability to shoot your mouth off. But questioning the intentions of people who work for credit unions, and calling into question their contributions–without data to back up your assertions–is a pretty sleazy thing to do.


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