CMOs and CEOs

by Brad VanAuken, BrandForward, Inc.

According to Robert Rose, Chief Strategist at Content Marketing Institute, “The Fournaise Group conducted a study that found that while 90% of CEOs do trust and value the opinion and work of both CFOs and CIOs, a full 80% of them do not trust and are not very impressed by the work done by marketers. A Nielsen Study in 2009 found that the average short-term return on marketing investment was about 1.09. In other words, for every dollar spent on marketing, about $1.09 was returned.” So marketers are delivering the goods but CEOs don’t trust them.

From my experience as a CMO, the marketing function’s value is not often fully appreciated because marketing operates as a “gestalt” between the understanding and insight obtained through hard data and analysis and intuition about the market that is the result of years of exposure to marketing research and trying to understand consumers from a deep psychological perspective. While the left-brain (analytical) portion of this is relatively easy to understand, the right-brain (intuitive) portion of this is large invisible and seems like “hocus pocus” to most people who are more operationally oriented.

It should go without saying that the CMO should be a part of the organization’s leadership team, helping to make organization-wide decisions at an executive level.

As markets continue to change rapidly and consumers continue to gain power, it is important for organizations to build a better understanding of the market’s evolving needs into everything that they do.

A key role of the CMO is to keep the CEO and the rest of the organization informed about the market by commissioning, analyzing and reporting strategic, insightful and actionable marketing research. This will significantly increase the value of the CMO to the organization.

Another way for CMOs to become more valuable to their organizations is to take a more central role in developing organization strategy and plans so that the organization becomes better at addressing consumer insights.

The CMO should also be responsible for identifying the desired customer experiences at each customer touch point and then influencing the entire organization including sales, service, operations and strategic partners, to deliver those experiences. This requires outstanding persuasion skills but also endorsement by the CEO.

Related to this is helping organizations understand how to align their values with their customers’ values and how to create a sense of community with their customers, including identifying the most current ways in which this can be done (e.g. CRM and social media). To underpin this work, the CMO could help the organization reach consensus on its mission, vision and values.

I believe that an outstanding skill set for future CEOs is a combination of financial and marketing skills.

For a CMO to become a viable CEO candidate, he must have a strong understanding of the financial aspects of the business. This goes far beyond managing departmental budgets. That person should have stints in managing the P&Ls of different business units and geographic operations, including international ones.

There are many reasons why CMOs are critical to an organization’s success today. Chief among them is to be the voice of the consumer to the organization. If the CMO is able to take the next step and transform that insight into a strategic vision for the organization, this will extend the function’s value further. As I mentioned previously, demonstrating financial acumen is the other critical factor in preparing a CMO to become the CEO.

Smart CEOs will understand the increasing value of the marketing function to their organizations. It would be in their best interests to use CMOs in the ways that I have outined and to give them stints in which they become fully competent at managing P&Ls.

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