War in the Boardroom

Laura Ries

As marketing professionals, we spend way too much of our time trying to sell our ideas to top management.

Meetings often turn into boardroom battles between management and marketing. On many occasions we have lost these battles. We have the scars to prove it.

Why do management and marketing always clash? It occurred to me: They don’t understand each other because they think differently.

What makes a good chief executive? A person who is highly verbal, logical and analytical. Typical characteristics of a left brainer.

What makes a good marketing executive? A person who is highly visual, intuitive and holistic. Typical characteristics of a right brainer.

Management vs. Marketing

Because they think differently, management and marketing don’t see eye-to-eye. Management is logical, marketing is not. What works in marketing almost seems to be the opposite of the right thing to do.

Take expansion. Management at almost every company in the world is committed to expanding its line. More products, more markets, more distribution channels, more variations, more price points. Look at the U.S. airline industry, for example. Every major carrier offers multiple classes of service and flies both domestic and international routes. That makes sense to a left-brained manager.

However, this did not make sense to right-brained entrepreneur Herb Kelleher, who launched Southwest Airlines, the first "no-frills" airline. Coach only. Domestic only. No food. No pets. No advanced seating reservations. No inter-airline baggage exchange.

Entrepreneurs are invariably visually-oriented right brainers who often turn out to be exceptionally good marketing thinkers, too. They are usually "visionaries" who focus on the "big picture," sometimes suffering in the short term.

That’s not true of the vast majority of managers in America today who are verbally-oriented left brainers. Why is this so? Because of the way people move up the ladder in the corporate world. In many companies, you don’t get promoted, you get elected.

Management is like politics. Employees find a way to let management know whom they would like to work for.

Look Left, Look Right

Right brainers don’t have much of a chance in the office game. A left brainer is an extrovert, particularly good at schmoozing with people. A right brainer is an introvert, totally outclassed when it comes to office politics.

As companies get older and bigger, their upper levels tend to be staffed almost exclusively with left brainer executives. As a result, the innovators and marketing people (primarily right brainers) tend to leave or get pushed out. Chief marketing officers, for example, have the shortest tenure of any top executive—only 26 months.

We certainly don’t advocate a right-brain takeover of corporate America. Business needs both: logical, analytical left brainers to manage the business, and intuitive, holistic right brainers to create the new marketing ideas and concepts that will insure future success.

But for this to happen, both sides need to better understand each other.

First published on Call Center IQ.