Today's modern CMO role needs an overhaul

We're here to help you reconstruct the position—the right way.

If consumers have more power than ever, shouldn’t an organization that depends on consumers invest greater responsibility in the people who can articulate and answer their demands?

Watch the video: Five ways CMOs can be successful

It isn’t news that there is a growing case for CMOs to adopt a more strategic stance. Yet their traditional domain—the tactical side—keeps pulling them back in. Having more tools to use means spending more time using them. More channels to exploit means more effort keeping them full of content. Under pressure to man the switches, a CMO must work to maintain a focus on the shift to a more enterprise-wide mission.

This tension may help explain why CMOs are, on average, the shortest-tenured people in the C-suite. Organizations haven’t been giving them the authority and responsibility they need to meet the new expectations placed on them. Too many CMOs find that when the high-level talk about driving growth and revenue is over, they go back to their offices and revert to the accustomed focus on brand and campaign tactics.

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Making a credible splash in a broader role takes more than just laying claim to it. Today’s marketers can demonstrate their strategic value by amplifying strengths they’ve always had, translating them in new ways, and internalizing their new capabilities. The result can be a new place at the center of the enterprise, stronger relationships with other leaders, and a more holistic approach to the core mission of understanding and serving customers. Here are three facets of that challenge to consider.

Bringing marketing priorities to other leaders on their own terms means thinking about what’s important from their points of view, as well as learning to speak their languages.

1. Relentlessly safeguard the customer.

If the digitally informed customer has more influence, the organization depends more than ever on having a clear window into that consumer’s mind. That clear window is you. Everyone else in the company approaches the customer challenge with a built-in imbalance: They need the insights, but something else is their primary job. Only the CMO has the daily mission of gaining—and sharing—an over-arching view of the customer.

Accomplishing this means taking full advantage of data and analytics to understand the whole customer journey. Customers “touch” marketing and sales, but they also touch other functions within the organization. Analytical tools can help the CMO track all those interactions and determine how to make every customer experience a positive one. Unfortunately, survey data from the CMO Council and Deloitte shows too few CMOs are applying their new tools in this way: 34 percent are using them to enhance brand platforms, but only 10 percent are using them to improve life cycle or customer experience management.

With that knowledge in hand, the CMO can partner meaningfully with other C-suite colleagues on a strategic level. Are people shopping primarily online? You and the CIO need to be on the same page. Is the customer experience shaped strongly by in-person interaction with front-line staff? The CHRO should have you on speed-dial.

2. Speak the language of the C-suite.

Viewed parochially, a better-informed, more empowered marketing function is mostly good for… the marketing function. Everyone wants the company to prosper, but what that means to Finance is different from what it means to Operations, and so on. Using the credibility you build as the voice of the consumer, it now falls to you as CMO to express those insights in ways that address the other leaders’ pain points.

In other words: Ask not what they can do for marketing. Ask what marketing can do for them.

For example, if you tell a Finance officer that taking a certain initiative will help improve customer experience, the response may not be enthusiastic. Isn’t customer experience your problem? In contrast, you could advocate for the same course of action by telling your Finance colleague that it will increase sales and revenue. You might entice an Operations chief more with promises of fewer product returns than with talk of heightened customer satisfaction.

Bringing marketing priorities to other leaders on their own terms means thinking about what’s important from their points of view, as well as learning to speak their languages. Redefining today’s modern CMO starts with an entirely new vocabulary. Every specialty has its own way of saying the same things. If you can clearly explain the way marketing inputs lead to measurable outputs that others value, you can demonstrate the return on investment and prevent marketing from appearing to others as a “black box” that just uses resources.

Companies that outperform the competition have ideals that power their growth and provide incubation from temporary setbacks in their brand equity.

3. Establish a “center-brain” mentality.

Marketing is where the creatives live. Right? Ideas, campaigns, and brand essence are the ways they’ve traditionally interacted with the world. It’s a point of pride that intuition plays a part in making the company grow. Recently, however, marketing has seen the same rise of data-based analysis that has overtaken every other function.

Is it time to abandon right-brain creativity for the reliable hum of the analytical engine? No.

Is it time to make a stand for creativity and reject the new wave of left-brain machine thinking? No.

Instead, it’s time to find a way for both modes to complement each other. If the pendulum swings too far in either direction, you’re missing out on what the other can offer. The challenge is to build a “center-brain” mindset within yourself, and a corresponding talent mix within your teams, that brings a creative spark to data-driven intelligence. One way to do this is by deliberately balancing personality types and consciously identifying which energies are quantitative and which ones are qualitative. It can also help to make a transparent effort to help people with different persuasions learn each other’s languages.

As a CMO today, you face greater expectations within your organization than those who have gone before you. It only makes sense that you should have greater expectations of your own. You aren’t there just to carry out a plan; you’re there to carry the organization forward by bringing the customer perspective into every decision it makes. But the opportunity to work that way won’t just happen. You’ll have to shape it yourself. And when you reconstruct the position to fit the true role of the modern CMO, we think you’ll find that it’s a perfect fit.

Diana O’Brien is the former global chief marketing officer of Deloitte.

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