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Is there a clearer path for CMOs to increase their impact? Research suggests CMOs who own innovation road maps, company mission and vision, customer experience, and sales initiatives are twice as confident as their peers of having an impact on the organization—and the C-suite.
The near decade-long transformation of the chief marketing officer (CMO) role is now well established in the minds of most C-level executives. Growing expectations from the business and from C-suite peers, combined with increasingly digitally savvy, empowered customers, have drastically altered—and increased—the scope of the CMO. In our previous study, Redefining the CMO,1 we found the role is moving from being a campaign runner to customer strategist, from tactician to profit and loss (P&L) owner and growth driver, and critically, from department head to enterprise business leader.2 This new environment has resulted in an explosion of complexity for the role. The stakes are high for the CMO to either raise their influence in the top echelons of the C-suite or see misaligned expectations and poor role-scoping chip away at the relevance of the marketing organization and, ultimately, CMO tenure.3
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Perhaps it's unsurprising then, that when we asked CMOs how they are impacting the strategic direction of their organization and influencing peers in this new environment, only 5% perceived themselves as high-impact executives—the lowest self-ranking in the C-suite.4 In the next iteration of our research, we wanted to better understand what separates these confident, high-impact CMOs from the rest of their peers.
To draw fresh insights, we benchmarked 401 marketing organizations from some of the world’s biggest brands. Our goal was to understand how leading CMOs are operationalizing their organizations in terms of what they are accountable for today, what they want to own in the future, and how they measure the performance of their initiatives (see sidebar, “Methodology”). Two striking findings emerged:
Are some CMOs focused on owning the wrong things? Our research suggests the evolution of the CMO role needs course correction if they’re going to be positioned for greater impact and C-suite influence.
The study was conducted by Deloitte and The CMO Club, a global community of marketing executives, to benchmark the marketing organizations of more than 400 CMOs from across the world, averaging nine years of cumulative CMO or head of marketing experience. Survey data was contextualized with in-depth interviews from brand leaders in a wide range of industries.5 The analysis also drew insights from Deloitte’s Confident CMO study, an online survey of 575 C-level executives from Fortune 500 companies.6
The evolution of the CMO has understandably resulted in a massive increase in the scope of the role. Consider this marketing organization benchmark study, which included 50 distinct activities that might fall within a CMO’s accountability, depending on how their organization is structured. When we asked CMOs what they own today, the top responsibilities they indicated were: product/service marketing (86%), channel strategy/go-to-market (81%), marketing strategy (72%), and marketing technology (67%).
To better understand how CMOs are looking to elevate their impact and role within the organization, we asked which of these 50 activities they believe they should own. Overwhelmingly, CMOs most often wished to own three major activities: business partnerships (69%), corporate strategy (67%), and public relations (56%).
Yet, when we isolated and studied our high-confidence, high-impact CMOs, the data showed these activities are not the biggest game-changers in making a more impactful CMO. Seeking to own these activities certainly doesn’t hinder, but our research suggests relatively low correlation between ownership of these activities and CMO impact on the organization. This is perhaps a counterintuitive insight to think about for CMOs aspiring to forge a clearer path to company impact and influence.
So, which activities do the most influential CMOs own? Our analysis found four key areas CMOs could best be served to focus their efforts and attention: innovation road maps; company mission, vision, and values; customer relationships and experiences; and sales processes and territories (figure 1). Strikingly, CMOs who own this specific set of activities are twice as confident as the rest of their peers about significantly impacting the strategic direction of their organization and successfully influencing their C-suite peers.
Let’s take a look at each of these activities in detail and how CMOs can use their influence in these areas to impact the strategic direction of the organization:
Thankfully—and perhaps intuitively—these four activities are best aligned with the CMO’s core competencies. As most of the C-suite recognizes, the CMO is often the singular executive with unmatched customer expertise and is best positioned to be the customer champion for the organization.11 It stands to reason that thanks to this deep customer expertise, CMOs have incredible, untapped potential to drive innovation, company vision and mission, and sales processes—all through the lens of the customer.
Our analysis found that it’s not just the activities CMOs own but also how they measure and report their performance that defines their impact on the organization and the C-suite. We asked CMOs which part of the customer funnel they are responsible for—from the upper-funnel activities of awareness and consideration to mid-funnel lead generation to lower-funnel final purchase. A majority of the surveyed executives (50%) are accountable for awareness as their core success metric. However, figure 2 shows that CMOs whose responsibilities lie in the lower funnel and who are accountable for the final purchase were twice as confident in their ability to make an impact than the rest of their peers. The result is essentially an inverse funnel, where high-impact CMOs gain in confidence as their responsibilities are increasingly tied to bottom-line business results.
We also know from past research that the rest of the C-suite wants marketing to speak their language, and that language is clearly anchored in sales, which drives growth.12 However, the new survey results do not suggest that CMOs should forgo measuring awareness. Instead, taking cues from the behavior of high-impact CMOs, marketers can focus on the last mile of the customer journey. This can help them tie in customer behavior with purchase and align their internal messaging to C-suite peers around these high-impact, lower-funnel activities.
The findings of the survey clearly show that CMOs should correct the course of the evolution of their role to make an impact on the C-suite. This means, they should strategically choose the activities on which they focus their efforts; how they influence their peers to scope their roles; and how they measure—and message—their successes. Here are some recommended actions for CMOs to calibrate their approach in this direction:
Our research confirms that the CMO’s C-suite peers routinely recognize their customer expertise. But CMOs don’t always fully understand how valuable these insights can be to the entire organization. By confidently bringing their unique customer expertise to the strategic table, CMOs can open new doors to collaborations across the C-suite. And, in doing so, they can transform every facet of the enterprise into a customer-centric endeavor—thereby making a greater impact on the organization and the C-suite.