The Uncommonly

CMOs Behind the Eight Ball

By Amy Radin

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 like searching for the Holy Grail – an elusive goal with danger along the path to finding it. No wonder according to a Q1 2017 Wall Street Journal report CMO tenure continues to decline, and Marketing Week reports it is the shortest of any member of the c-suite.

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, 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 get resources and support for hitting tougher goals. Oh, and another thing … they have to move at lightning 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.

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, the vastness of data, and speed of the marketplace have caused many executives including CMOs to lose sight of marketing as the set of skills and methods that grow a brand. Marketing enables differentiation and performance. Technology and data will not lead to performance without being focused and enlivened by a marketing mindset. And the same goes in reverse.

See marketing as 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” uppercase “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 the 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.

A 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.

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 is Cofounder and Partner along with Dax Hamman at Reinvent Partners, an action-oriented consultancy that can help any company increase its innovation momentum for growth, differentiation, and financial performance. Amy’s first book, The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation in Any Company, is being published in 2018.

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About Amy Radin

Amy Radin is an adviser, speaker and author, working with executives and senior leaders to deliver growth through meaningful innovation. She offers an uncommonly pragmatic and disciplined approach that begins with pinpointing high-potential unmet market needs, and from there provides a proven framework for “what to do next” and how to lead through the inevitable, daily challenges any organization will face in pursuit of innovation.
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Global Head, Digital Channels & Client Data Analytics; Standard Chartered Bank Board Member, Progressive Insurance