Marketing and Finance: From Frenemies to Partnership


A few weeks ago I succumbed to clickbait. I should know better. The LinkedIn algorithm recommended an article with the headline “CMOs need to ditch marketing jargon to woo finance and the CFO”. As someone with the (slightly unusual) experience of sitting both sides of this fence, the headline infuriated me. My roles as an accountant were quite literally to help translate my clients’ priorities into financial terms (a budget, a business case, etc). And now as a marketer I know that sometimes the jargon is used because it’s the terminology that can best capture the nuance of the situation (“during the brand campaign we will run reduced but highly targeted DR activity”). Teams can work together without devolving into one way of talking.

The article itself was actually a bit more balanced than the headline suggested. Building on findings from last summer’s The Board-Brand Rift report from the IPA and FT, it makes the case for remembering to communicate the commercial impact of the “softer” metrics that marketing teams often focus on. Essentially, using the right language can help build credibility – and I absolutely agree with this

But, putting all the onus for finding the “right” language onto marketers is, I think, short sighted: by exclusively using the language of one team, we devalue the expertise of the other. Much as marketers may not want to hear about a depreciation policy for their data lake infrastructure, they need their accountants to be thinking about this. And accountants might not particularly care about the programmatic ad fraud and brand safety approach, but do want their marketing colleagues to use budget effectively.

So, how can Marketing and Finance work as partners rather than frenemies?

  1. Leave assumptions at home: as an accountant I thought all marketing was fluffy waffle. Plenty of my marketing colleagues think accountants have no personality and only care about PO numbers (which are very important!). Neither turned out to be totally true.
  1. Learn key language (business & financial): If finance expects the business to know what a P&L is, it’s not unreasonable for the business to ask the same courtesy of finance; the finance function should understand what the business does. Where Finance Business Partner roles exist, use this resource to help articulate what marketing does in a way that translates for everyone.
  1. Appreciate the value different skillsets bring: Finance will make sure there’s enough money to pay everyone. Marketing brings customers into the top of the funnel and provide unparalleled insight into consumers. Both are crucial teams in any organisation.
  1. Talk about the outcomes of your strategy: outcomes don’t always have to have a £ amount attached (although this helps). Moving the conversation from “our campaign will focus on increasing awareness and engagement” to “our campaign will focus on increasing awareness and engagement which will enable us to broaden our customer base and therefore increase sales” provides the context for your actions.

There is no silver bullet for a perfect marketing/finance team relationship. But I encourage organisations to find a shared communication approach that unlocks the best of every team. And with the current economic uncertainty, and unprecedented levels of working remotely, communicating effectively is more important than ever.

Written by Sophie Wooller