In a recent discussion of some CMOs on making a difference within their first 90 days, it was interesting to see the focus on the time line and process needed to quickly on-board, make recommendations and create impact. Urgency was paramount. Risk, very high. It spoke volumes about the pressure keg many CMO s find themselves in.
A few years ago, Mike Linton, among others, noted the proportion of CMOs who hold the position for less than three years. Sadly, I don’t think that trend has changed much. Some blame it on dysfunctional organizations who don’t understand the role of the CMO, while others see it evolving beyond the traditional boundaries of brand champion and go-to-market strategist.
In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors acknowledged the CMO role may be turning into the Chief Commercial Officer (referencing an earlier study by Heidrick & Struggles) as marketing expands its role over sales. Others have suggested the role has “ballooned into a diversified strategic and operations” function. No matter how it evolves, the CMO role is high-risk and, hopefully in many instances, high-reward. There is very little room for the reluctant or status-quo CMO.
The one ingredient seemingly missing in much of the CMO role definition is the “vision quest” of the CMO. How s/he sees their purpose in relation to the overall organization’s welfare, and how congruous that vision is with C-suite expectations determines the CMO’s efficacy. Due to the pressures of the job, there is great temptation to get caught up in the minutia of executing for short-term credibility while losing long-term positioning and vision. Balance is required with the caveat that short-term accomplishments amplify long-term vision and role positioning.
In my years of working with successful and not-so-successful CMOs, one of the differences has been their ability (or lack thereof) to define and demonstrate a vision of their role within the organization beyond the grind of daily demands, sales or other metrics. That vision tends to take on broader aspects of the corporate realm. I have found five characteristics that thread through the role of a successful CMO.
- Brand Shaman—Beyond owning and defining the corporate and/or product brand(s), the CMO helps the organization (particularly the C-suite) understand its brand purpose – addressing the “why” to customers, stake holders and the world – beyond only generating revenue. It’s finding the soul of the organization and bringing it to life in the brand. Dove Soap is about building women’s self esteem. IBM is about making the world smarter. Simon Sinek’s, Start with Why, gives an excellent overview of the power of purposeful brands and organizations.
- Change Agent—The CMO is the cheerleader of innovation and creativity, inspiring others to see and approach challenges differently and more effectively, whether they are directly marketing-related or not. S/he encourages, as well as demonstrates, thinking outside the lines, celebrating nuggets of brilliance and ingenuity at whatever level they manifest themselves.
- Field Marshal—As if a master of Sun Tzu, The CMO brings strategic insight and brilliance to out-maneuvering competitors and capturing more customers. This comes in the form of well-researched plans and precision execution, always leaving some room for inspired intuition along the way.
- Strategic Consigliere—The CMO becomes the wise and strategic advisor to the CEO, as well as a strong voice of insight and wisdom for the rest of the C-suite. Though unfaltering in point of view, s/he is a strong advocate for the CEO in doing the right thing, never losing sight of established corporate values and vision.
- Culture Curator—Having established the corporate brand’s vision, the CMO inspires and facilitates the internal organization living the brand’s purpose, core values and vision. The brand’s religion has not only been evangelized internally, but embraced and expanded by the employees.
With a touch of creativity, inspiration and skill, role vision can be a powerful tool for not only the CMO’s success and survival, but a great asset for the CEO in addressing the demands of his or her own role. The quicker we see this role vision and embrace it, the sooner we can make a lasting difference.
by Bryan Thomas
President, gyro Denver