The famous line “What we got here is failure to communicate” underscores one of the CMO’s biggest challenges: internal alignment with marketing.
After my post on “5 Roles of Successful CMOs”, a kind reader mentioned there could possibly be a sixth role added to the list: business linguist. I was intrigued by the thought and have to admit that I agree.
The role of business linguist for the CMO is probably one of the more challenging aspects of the job. Translating marketing value and priority to other areas of the corporate enterprise, if done ineffectively or ignored, can lead to disaster.
A few of those outcomes stemming from a CMO’s inability to be multilingual in his/her business acumen include having marketing segregated to a lesser role, minimized marketing alignment and the “silo-ing” of the discipline within the overall organization.
Many CMOs who work in corporations considered less marketing driven than, let’s say, the P&G’s of the world, can fall into the trap of assuming operations, finance, sales, IT, HR, even the CEO both understand and support their marketing vision and agenda. How could they think otherwise?
Or, worse yet, those corporate functions are adversarial to marketing’s objectives. It’s challenging enough to deal with the external market. But having internal discord or minimal support can be at times overwhelming and undermining. One CMO confided that the internal turf war, at times, between corporate functions “feels like I’m playing a game of ‘Survivor’ in the executive suite.” It’s probably not too far from the truth for many CMOs.
Part of the challenge in such situations is that the CMO is not a linguist. S/he has not bothered to either learn or apply the unique language of each corporate function. Think of it as each one has its own unique love language. However, it’s not just enough to know each discipline’s language than, more to the point, it is to understand the motivation and agenda behind it. Many marketers fail to use the very discipline that enables them to be successful in driving consumer behavior, market share, brand preference, etc., and that discipline is research!
These marketers need to take the time to skillfully understand those departments’ needs and issues, particularly at the decision-maker level. They may have baggage from previous marketing initiatives or want to have a voice in the marketing process. For example, the risk-averse CFO or finance group needs to see ROI or at least calculated risk, with a plan B if there is low success or failure. They need as much quantification and logical rationale as possible. Consider it foreplay to what you really want—alignment and unity.
Paramount to all other languages is the CEO. In David Aaker’s 2008 book, Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative, he notes for the CMO to gain credibility and buy-in s/he must get the CEO on board. Part of the CEO’s language is growth objectives, efficiency and cost and shareholder return. As Aaker suggests, the CMO must reframe marketing as a driver of business strategy rather than a tactical management function. Aaker notes how the 1990 partnership between Dennis Carter, Intel marketing manager, and CEO Andy Grove created the “Intel Inside” campaign that has become legendary for the industry and catapulted Intel to a new level. Much of that success was due to Carter’s ability to speak Grove’s language and reciprocally Grove speaking Carter’s language on the power of branding.
Key to the language of the CEO or any other function in the organization is the customer. The customer is the CMO’s greatest asset for building credibility and traversing each function’s language. The ultimate source of influence is customer knowledge. It usually trumps all other issues or arguments. Translating it to meaningful context for the CFO or CIO, for example, can create the needed alignment and alliances to then effectively speak the CEO’s business language and gain his/her confidence.
As CMOs assert a leadership role in understanding and speaking their executive teammates’ languages, they can gain their confidence and support. They will unite the organization with a marketing vision and focus that can achieve new heights of impact.
Bryan Thomas is president of gyro Denver.