Blame CMO Turnover on Metrics Mania

Death by Data: An Extreme Focus on Quantitative Measurement Is Killing CMOs' Sense of Innovation

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The malaise plaguing chief marketing officers has been well documented, with the average tenure of a CMO now lasting only 26 months, according to the latest research from Spencer Stuart. High CMO turnover may be due, in part, to the fact that over the past few years, the balance between the art and science of marketing has tilted much too heavily toward quantitative metrics and away from its historical position as a qualitative, creative practice.

Lloyd Trufelman is president-CEO of Trylon SMR, a media relations firm specializing in the tech, media and telecom industries. Prior to founding the firm, he was public relations director for MTV Networks' VH-1 and Ha! The TV Comedy Network.

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While the advance of science is usually a hallmark of progress, the current demand for greater metrics, more measurement and increased accountability on the part of CMOs has resulted in demoralized marketing departments and muddled messaging. With all the talk of measurement and flowing spreadsheets, the creative-service departments have begun to act more like accounting departments. If anything, the creative services need a re-orientation to the creative process, which is not based solely on numbers.

Top management often claims to want marketing efforts that reflect original, even audacious thinking. But the over-reliance on metrics tends to crush originality and risk-taking. Metrics tend to inhibit innovation because they rely on looking backward and taking a status-quo approach. If you base a new campaign on what worked for the last two quarters, you'll only be recycling past successes instead of initiating new ones. Marketing plans that may have worked last year eventually become stale and unappealing. But they seem like the safe way to go. As they say, numbers don't lie.

'The tool of data'
To be sure, one needs to be concerned about the bottom line and whether sales go or up or down. Accountability and return on investment are crucial. It is also important to execute campaigns in a professional manner. Rather than using the numbers to gain a sense of where things stand, marketing professionals are letting numbers tell them where they should go. Instead of using data as a tool, CMOs become the tool of data. A winning creative-services strategy depends on more than metrics. It depends on having strong, unquantifiable creative gut instincts and daring to come up with something really new that might not format neatly into Excel.

It's safe to say that no amount of data ever produced a great campaign idea. If that happened, you could tap the finance department to head up the next campaign. Running a business requires creativity. The same goes for running advertising or marketing campaigns. And imagination, improvisation and innovation are all inextricably linked with creativity.

Therefore, if CMOs want to hold onto their jobs, they need to re-orient toward creative instincts and the kind of knowledge that goes beyond numbers. Think of it this way: Marketing campaigns are like jazz, while spreadsheets are like classical music. You need an ear to play either form of music, but classical demands you precisely follow the notes that everyone else is playing, and jazz forces one to express creativity. Marketing is more attuned to the syncopated rhythms of jazz -- in marketing and jazz, the accents come in unexpected places. Plus, to be a great jazz musician, you ultimately have to trust your gut and let your instinct guide you. And that sounds like the tune that CMOs should be playing.
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