The Life And Times Of Today’s CMO

Paul FriederichsenSeptember 20, 20164 min

In the ever-changing world of brand marketing, the most volatile position is right at the top – the Chief Marketing Officer. Over the years, the role of CMO has been the subject of much scrutiny and introspection. If the “buck stops here” for the CEO, the “buck gets going” thanks to the efforts of the CMO. And that always gets everyone’s careful attention in the boardroom.

Only The Strong Need Apply

Neil St. Clair observed “CMO” is “the most dangerous title around.” No doubt, most CMOs would agree. Estimates of average tenure range from 28 months (less than a coach in the NFL) to a little over 6-1/2 years. Better than the average life expectancy for most CEOs, but hardly destined for a corporate anniversary watch. Indeed, it’s the toughest job in the toughest business of brand marketing. And it keeps getting tougher.

Survival Of The Fittest

Many long for the days when all a Chief Marketing Officer would do was, well, marketing. Mark DiSomma asked in “CMO TO CEO: The Next Generation of Brand Leadership” if the role of CMO would continue to evolve. Just two years later, we can answer a resounding “yes” … and the evolution hasn’t stopped. As Mark quoted Ad Age, CMOs will continue to require “vision, results and leadership.” But in today’s digital and dynamic competitive marketplace, the CMO will need so much more to survive and thrive.

Marketing That Means Business

As St. Clair noted, a “reexamination of the role” is warranted because today’s average CMO must be above average when it comes to wearing many hats. According to him, they must know four things extremely well to succeed: Marketing, the competition, content creation and business engineering (meaning setting the stage for new business development). Hence, St. Clair’s contention that the more accurate title for the position should be changed to “CMBDO” (Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer).

You Can’t Save Your Way To Greatness

But as so often the case, CMOs will be challenged by budgets dispensed by their counterpart CFO. As a friend and CMO would point out, “You can’t save your way to greatness, but you can save your way out of business.” As a rule, no one in the C-Suite is as aware of the cost (and value) of creating the big ideas required for the future than the CMO. Optimistically, we are seeing a small increase in marketing budgets across the board, with an average slice of about 7.5% of revenues. However, one of the most stressing parts of the job is fighting for the funds to drive the ideas you just fought for.

Building Trusted Brands Is Key

Valuable insights about the role of CMOs and the state of brand marketing were revealed in the August 2016 The CMO Survey produced by Deloitte, the American Marketing Association and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. This survey of 427 marketing V.P. level or higher executives acknowledges some shared opinions: A guarded optimism about the economy, a ramping up of competition, a propensity to invest more into existing markets and a growing priority to build “trusting relationships” with customers.

Trust in the brand is everything. It retains brand loyalists and inspires brand advocates. It is a potent defense against challengers and a platform to expand.

Being The Voice Of The Customer

All of that is pure brand building, facilitated in large part by the CMO’s ability to do two things: Smartly dissect and analyze customer data and wield social media effectively. No wonder the The CMO Survey predicts the budgets for analytics will increase 68% in the next 3 years. And no wonder the top three spots on the CMO’s to do list are brand, advertising and social media. Why wouldn’t they be? Of everyone sitting around that boardroom table, the only one that speaks for the brand’s customer (who is in essence “owner” of the brand as we all know) is the CMO. And many, many times it’s a woefully unappreciated position.

As Peter Drucker once observed, the two most important things any company does are innovation and marketing. The rest of it is just overhead.

The Simple Truth

It is important that the business world realize the simple truth. After it’s all said and done, only the CMO speaks for the brand. Only the CMO represents the customer. Only the CMO sees the trends and knows where the ship should be steered. And only the CMO can create and fight for the ideas that move their brand in the right direction.

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