CMOs Behind the Eight Ball

CMOs are in more perilous positions than ever as they try to demonstrate ROI for marketing. Here are some ways to tackle the problem.

Recently, I was a panelist at How Marketers Drive Growth – sponsored by Forbes, along with TD Ameritrade CMO Denise Karkos, Tableau CMO Elissa Fink, Sprinklr President and COO Carlos Dominguez and Head of Forbes CMO Practice Bruce Rogers. We talked strategies to solve CMOs’ quest: proving marketing ROI. This precious goal is proving to be a bit like searching for the Holy Grail – an elusive goal with danger along the path to finding it. No wonder CMO tenure continues to decline and is the shortest of any member of the C-suite, based on studies published earlier this year. Executive expectations across sectors and at companies ranging from seed stage to mature brands suggest CMOs are in more perilous positions than ever. They have greater accountability, coupled with limited additional formal authority. They are tasked to deliver ROI-based leads, accounts, sales, traffic – whatever the volume driver of a brand’s revenue is – with influence as their major weapon to win the resources and support to accomplish tougher goals. Oh, and another thing … they have to move at lightening speed and bring together a mix of hard-to-find talent within their own function, all the while demonstrating super-heroic performance including winning over peers to the unfamiliar. See also: Wanted by the CEO: A Superhero CMO   CMOs who succeed at getting out from behind the eight ball are those who will: Understand and practice the basics of marketing with modern era twists. The technologies, channels, vastness of data, and speed of the marketplace have caused many executives, and CMOs themselves, to lose sight of the fact that marketing is still the set of skills and methods that grow a brand enabling differentiation and performance. Technology and data will not lead to performance without being focused and enlivened by a marketing mindset and skillset. And the same goes in reverse. Marketing is much more than an organizational unit. More productive: to recall that the science of marketing includes the know-how for identifying and delivering upon the unmet needs of findable and scalable audiences, with viable economics. Marketing done to the max can orient the business model around the users the brand wants to serve and the buyers the brand must reach. A marketing mindset must pervade the entire organization, and be role modeled by the CEO down. “Marketing” lower case “m” succeeds when it is widespread, not solely in the domain of “Marketing” upper case “M”. It’s a core way of operating, not a communications cost center. Know the brand purpose and the business strategy. What is the brand’s purpose, and what are the business goals being set by the CEO and ratified by the board? Can the operating levers to deliver goals be identified and can the CMO be empowered, with both resources and authority, to have at least an even shot at success when it comes to identifying and delivering what users need along with attracting buyers? Go for the short term and the long term; be scrappy. Focusing on today at the expense of tomorrow, or vice versa, is not sustainable. Winning businesses set and meet near-term expectations while using the opportunity of day in day out decisions to create their futures. They do so one step at a time and with urgency. In this regard, there is much the corporate world can learn from startups about bare bones testing that allows manageable steps forward without big budgets. Startups don’t have a choice. They don’t have the budgets and they are racing the clock to stay alive. The creativity applied to getting answers for market validation – by being good enough, no better -- offers a very different paradigm to what can be the exhaustingly slow pace and risk overweighting prevalent in large bureaucracies. Be willing to invest. People, infrastructure, capabilities, skills, methods and political capital are all required for today’s CMO to get out from behind that big eight ball. Caution to CMOs-to-be: confirm CEO sponsorship and engagement, before signing on. Change is built into the CMO role. That’s reality. Change has personal and emotional consequences, and is not necessarily embraced even when all of the facts line up to favor a new course. CMOs cause widespread change to deliver near-term impact and build brands. For that they need air cover, starting with the CEO’s consistent and courageous leadership and commitment from the Board. See also: How to Make Sense of Marketing Tech   Assess whether the conditions are right to work this list of must-do actions, or set your sights in 2018 on how to shift conditions so you can make your mark as a CMO.

Amy Radin

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Amy Radin

Amy Radin is a digital transformation, marketing and tech strategy executive advisor, who throughout a 25-year Fortune 100 career created significant stakeholder value applying market insight, data analytics and creativity to deliver profitable organic growth for major financial services brands including Citi, American Express, E*TRADE and AXA. She is the author of the award-winning book, "The Change Maker's Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company."


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