CMO tenure is notoriously short. It's tough for a chief marketing officer to get her arms fully around her organization. Even as the marketing function spreads its wings within many companies, too many activities remain outside of the CMO’s direct control. The CMO works across many areas in the business - sales, product development, legal, communications, finance, HR - but her executive influence is often second fiddle to the respective department head.
This represents a missed opportunity. CEOs would do well to give CMOs as much strategic and operational control in the business as possible. The chief marketing officer should be a CEO in waiting in the same way the chief operating officer (COO) role has traditionally been viewed as a grooming position for chief executives.
Above All Else, Create Customers
The problem is that limiting the executive power of CMOs dilutes and confuses the ultimate purpose of an organization, according to management theorist Peter Drucker: to create a customer. A company that markets well is a company that maximizes its chances of future success.
The CEO must understand this and place an outright priority on marketing in all its facets, from client communication to product development to employer branding to pricing. The CEO must be the CMO incarnate, and vice versa. As Mark Bonchek and Gene Cornfield wrote in an article for Harvard Business Review, "Most marketers recognize that marketing is much more than running campaigns and managing brand identity. But the rest of the organization doesn’t know this yet, including most CEOs. CMOs need to define a broader vision for marketing as the orchestrator of the customer experience and prove that marketing is not a cost center but a revenue generator."
Nonetheless, the restraint upon the executive responsibilities of CMOs appears to show little sign of abating. In the August 2017 results of the biannual CMO Survey, undertaken since 2008 by Christine Moorman at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, respondents listed branding, advertising, and social media as areas in which marketing took the lead in more than 70% of organizations. By contrast, marketing led in the areas of revenue growth, product development, pricing, sales, and customer service, functions equally critical to successful business marketing, in only between 20% to 40% of companies.
Far from ideal but too many chief marketing officers appear accepting of the status quo. When asked what makes a CMO effective, the top answer was “being the voice of the customer at the leadership table.” Contrast this with “proactively leading C-suite collaborations to drive cross-functional initiatives across the organization.” Fewer than half as many respondents selected this as their top answer.
Thinking Like a CEO
To better succeed, CMOs need to think more like CEOs, and CEOs need to adopt a marketing-first approach. A commitment to marketing, particularly digital marketing, must reside in every corner of the business. However, a reticence to go all-in is holding businesses back. According to Christine Moorman, companies remain overly focused on developing “digital marketing strategies” to the detriment of building a “digital marketing organization.” Companies are building out from the margins and not from the center.
That said, companies are hardly shrinking from sinking dollars into marketing-related activity. According to the CMO Survey, the number of personnel in a CMO’s direct chain of command almost doubled in the past 12 months.
And therein lies the paradox. Companies intuitively grasp the importance of marketing and are logically putting more people behind it. They just don't know how to make marketing work in an integrated and scaleable way that best leverages their investment.