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CMO: The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love

Rapid change. Complex analytics. Brand advocacy, creativity and strategic leadership. Judged on execution and impact....and by the way, the clock is ticking.

These are some of the challenges that face to the evolving role of the modern Marketing leader, requiring a dizzying array of skills to deal with a rapidly changing environment and high CEO expectations.

RAPID CHANGE

As McKinsey & Company presaged a few years ago, "Few senior-executive positions will be subject to as much change over the next few years as that of the chief marketing officer".  A number of factors are driving that change:

  • The liberation of the information consumers use in making buying decisions
  • Multiple, online channels of interaction between consumers and brands
  • Rapid evolution of digital marketing technology
  • Competitive intensity and the shortening lifespan of competitive advantage

The Liberation of Information:

Consumers today have access to product reviews, detailed product descriptions, comparative price data...and that's before they ever hit your company's website.  "CMOs face a power shift from selectively informed consumers to consumers “armed to their teeth” with information and choice", as detailed in The Changing Role of the CMO - Evolution and Revolution At Work by the Vivaldi Partners Group.

The empowered consumer can be at multiple phases in the buying cycle (awareness, consideration, investigate, purchase and use) at the same time, quickly obsoleting any notion of a linear narrative with your customer.  In addition, being transparent, factual and honest about your brand has never been more consequential given that customers will detect gaps and inconsistencies across your message points (customer service, technical support, trade shows, in-person sales, online, print, etc.).

Multiple Online Channels of Interaction:

Of course customers will, if you're skillful and can break through the noise, be listening to your messages across your platforms (blogs, social media, Pay-per-Click advertising, your website(s), and email).  "Designing a consistently positive, rewarding experience across all those touchpoints takes system-wide thinking and an integrated service-delivery approach. Point solutions, such as focusing on the call center, the store, or the website, no longer cut it in a multichannel environment", says Peter Dahlstrom, Chris Davis, Fabian Hieronimus, and Marc Singer in the Rebirth of the CMO,  (HBR Oct. 2014).

But as important your messages on your platforms (and they best cohere), the messages about your company and products/services hosted on 3rd-party sites are potentially even more important.  These include other purchase channels that have customer reviews, consumer interest groups (these exist in both B2C and B2B), user-developed content and the social media 'twittersphere' and beyond.  Being keenly aware of the digital conversations about your brand, bringing that information into your organization, and appropriately directly or indirectly responding can be critical.

Rapid evolution of digital marketing technology:

As Aditya Joshi states in Technology Questions Every CMO Must Ask (HBR Oct. 2014), "Marketers today encounter a mind-boggling array of technologies.  CMOs I talk to are swamped by meeting requests from technology vendors, and most feel an acute pressure to climb on the tech bandwagon".  Marketing technology has dramatically evolved over the last decade and continues to quickly mature.

Digital Marketing platforms (for landing page and forms development, social media management, email marketing), Web platforms (for eCommerce, product and content search, and online customer experiences), CRMs (customer relationship management for a 360 degree view of your prospects and customers), Customer Review platforms, Analytical tools (Google Analytics, KISS metrics, etc.), Online communities (for customer engagement, customer feedback, and market research) et al. are enabling marketers to track how well they are evolving customer relationships and which activities are positively contributing to each step of the customer journey.

These systems create multiple imperatives:

  • From the sea of data these systems produces, what actionable insights are being generated?
  • How will you scale Marketing's impact by connecting the dots across these systems and the other critical enterprise systems linked to production, development, finance, reporting, etc.?
  • Can you successfully set expectations for return-on-investment timing and business impact?

Competitive Intensity:

In the Rebirth of the CMO the authors state: "Digital disruption...has created an increasingly commoditized product and service environment. Digital has removed barriers across sectors, even in old-line businesses known for “sticky” products, such as telecom and insurance. And that same transparency has radically shortened the shelf-life of any new competitive advantage."  As information has become more democratized, barriers to awareness have been lowered.  A firm I worked with saw it's competitive ranks climb from 30 to over 300 competitors in less five years.

TOUGH AND GETTING TOUGHER

The pace of change will not slacken in coming years and the systems and technology will necessarily (thankfully) continue to evolve.  Role expectations will not soften either.

Shelagh Collins reports that the IDC Predicts Hard Times Ahead for CMOs (CMS Wire, Dec. 2014) that "One in four CMOs will be replaced every year through 2018."  Why?  "Chief marketing officer turnover is partially due to a disparity between CEO expectations and the hiring of the CMO to execute them. 'If the CEO isn't sure what he wants when he makes the job requisitions specification, it's not surprising that the CEO might be disappointed if the CMO doesn’t perform over those first 12 or 24 months', according to Rich Vancil, Group VP, Executive Advisory Group."

Last year Fortune reported that although CMO tenure has improved in some sectors, it remains significantly lower than CIOs or CEOs.  They report that CMO tenure is "shortest in the healthcare, automotive, restaurant and communications/media sectors, averaging between 28 to 32 months."

Ty Montague (Are CEOs to Blame for Short CMO Tenures?  HBR July 2013) states CMO tenure is "astonishingly low compared to other execs in the C-Suite: eight years for CEOs and ten years for CFOs. So why is CMO tenure so short? Experts have pointed to a host of reasons: the explosion of social media, the rise of big data, general complexity and chaos, incompetence…"

SO WHY DO IT?

While as Dahlstrom et al state "The need to deliver on organization-wide imperatives creates lots of pressure for CMOs", it also "has elevated – and complicated – the role of CMO. Delivering above-market growth increasingly hinges on differentiating the customer experience and building tighter customer relationships . That in turn relies on not only having excellent marketing capabilities, but also connecting marketing with the entire organization."

To be a CMO today is to be at the cross-currents of change, with customers, technology and the organization.  Technology is enabling marketing capacity and capabilities to positively impact the strategic direction of the company, customer engagement, product definition, brand vibrancy, and revenue growth.

Marketers experience in their personal lives, and see all around them, dramatic changes in the way customers learn about and purchase products.  Marketing leaders have a unique opportunity to work across the entire organization to build a shared vision for uniquely delivering value to customers.

Executing against that vision, with products and programs that result in dynamic customer relationships, could not be more critically important or rewarding in business today.  If you like leading change, technology and analytics, creativity and strategy, and continuously evolving yourself and your team's marketing skills, being a CMO is the toughest job you'll ever love.