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Perspectives

Why CMOs should mobilize the board of directors to support growth

The path to growth may be smoother for those with support from the board

Key findings from a recent survey of CMOs by the CMO Council in collaboration with Deloitte say that many growth-driving CMOs are working to rally corporate leadership around the customer.

Learning from successful CMOs

Chief marketers with a long-term mindset increasingly are advancing the growth agenda by tapping into a largely unmined corporate power center: The board of directors.

More than a third of this emerging group of growth-driving marketers see the board as a key ally and a champion of growth strategy. That’s one of the key findings in a recent survey of chief marketers by the CMO Council, in collaboration with Deloitte. The initiative sought to investigate and analyze how CMOs are embracing their roles in leading the growth agenda.

Among the top skills that have helped growth-driving CMOs shape and evolve that agenda include data and intelligence analysis, market insights and knowledge, and a holistic view of customer experience, according to our survey.

Though CMOs appear to have a clear path to elevating the growth agenda through their board of directors, many chief marketers are still looking to the top levels of corporate leadership for support on these efforts. Seventy-one percent of marketers surveyed view the president or CEO as their primary ally, for instance, while 56 percent hold the head of sales in similar regard. Yet more than one-third of CMOs view the board as a champion of growth strategy development, suggesting a key opportunity for directors to apply their oversight roles to growth-oriented pursuits.

Things get complicated upon further examination of the liaison role CMOs play as a member of top management, however. Unlike their C-suite counterparts such as CFOs who serve as formal liaisons to audit committees, CMOs have not always had comparable roles with the board of directors.

The lack of role familiarity goes the other way, too. Board members may not have deep experience or expertise in marketing, and as a result, there may not always be a shared level of fluency between CMOs and directors on social media strategy, digital transformation, and other marketing-related pursuits.

Still, the CMO can mobilize support for growth by strategically contributing to the board’s key priorities, using the brand as a lever for growth and collaborating with directors by helping them understand how marketing initiatives fuel the growth agenda. For instance, marketers have insight into risks associated with branding and reputational worries that can be points of entry with the board, given directors’ concerns for protecting the brand’s standing.

Recommendations for growth

Our research has yielded a number of recommendations for growth-driving CMOs to mobilize board support. For instance, when sharing insights with the board, it can be helpful for CMOs to avoid technical language in favor of broader business themes for directors with professional backgrounds unrelated to marketing.

In addition, CMOs can be key partners to other C-suite liaisons such as the CFO or CTO, helping them enhance their interactions with the board. In our survey, 50 percent of growth drivers believe they are totally aligned with these C-suite counterparts, and that these champions and allies fully support the CMO’s growth agenda and activities. By partnering with CFOs to understand financial implications of the CMO’s role and impact on strategic goals, or collaborating with CIOs or CTOs on digital transformation, CMOs can make significant contributions to growth strategy.

Board members can also make the most of this two-way relationship—and they have a responsibility to actively learn about the organization’s marketing capabilities so they can incorporate this intelligence into the board’s oversight duties with regard to strategy and other matters. For instance, directors should understand the function’s role in the marketing ecosystem, including customers, competitors, vendors, and regulators.

Directors should also be curious about the importance of marketing data and analytics on strategy and operations, and how the board can actively help monitor competitive threats and identify potential opportunities. Furthermore, boards should understand how well marketing is continuously monitoring social media and reputational threats as key risks associated with the CMO role.

Conversely, as the marketing function sits at the center of intelligence gathering on brand and reputation, the CMO can help educate directors about the organization’s risk posture and its potential responses to reputational crises.

A promising group of growth-driving marketers is demonstrating that they can expand the role of brander and storyteller to help drive profitability. Indeed, CMOs can be well-positioned to work closely with boards by routinely sharing insights with the board on strategy and other important issues facing their organizations.

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