Good CMOs Facilitate Change, but Great CMOs Drive It

Why Persuading Internal Constituents Is as Vital as Creative Ability

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Dick Patton
Dick Patton
Few people who have seen the self-lacerating ads from Domino's Pizza earlier this year can forget them. "Domino's pizza crust to me is like cardboard," says a focus group member in one spot. Crestfallen company executives quote customer comments like "Worst excuse for pizza I ever had," "totally devoid of flavor" and -- my favorite -- "The sauce tastes like ketchup."

A 2009 survey of consumer taste preferences, in which Domino's tied for last place, is often cited as the event that precipitated Domino's mea culpa and its determination to remake its signature product. In fact, an extensive makeover of the brand had begun long before the appearance of the survey. By the time the company's new ad campaign kicked off, Domino's had spent 18 months testing dozens of cheeses, sauces and seasonings.

And what some people may also forget is that Domino's was not performing poorly. When new CMO Russell Weiner joined the company in September 2008 and began a painstaking analysis of consumer insights, the company had posted its 58th consecutive quarter of same-store sales growth. Far from a desperate swing for the fences, the bold brand makeover appears to have been a carefully planned and executed effort that required extensive change throughout the organization. Leading change is difficult, but when there's nothing left to lose, it's relatively easy to get people to follow you in a new direction. But in more ambiguous situations, like that of Domino's, leading change can be far more difficult, especially when the change is so massive. And for a CMO new to the company, the challenge is even greater.

Domino's and its new CMO passed the test. Four months after rolling out and marketing the new recipe, the company recorded a quarterly jump in same-store sales of 14.3%, one of the largest gains ever achieved by a major fast-food chain. Some of that can be accounted for by consumer curiosity, but the gains appear to have legs. In the second quarter after the rollout, the rise in same-store sales hit 8% and profits were up more than 55%.

It is precisely the ability to lead change and to get results that distinguishes the great CMO from the good CMO. There are eight critical leadership competencies that top leaders, including top marketing leaders, must have: customer orientation, results orientation, market knowledge, team leadership, organizational development, collaboration and influencing, change leadership and strategic orientation. Outstanding CMOs outperform good CMOs in all eight competencies. But by far the biggest gaps are in results orientation and change leadership, where outstanding CMOs score a full point higher on our scale than good CMOs. These differences are meaningful. In our experience, improving a single competency by a single point requires six months to a year, depending on an individual's ability to grow.

This is not to minimize the skills of good CMOs. They make significant contributions to the companies that are fortunate enough to have them, and they are in short supply. They are adept at advocating change whether or not it originated with them. They set clear targets that focus people on achieving the change and develop metrics that both monitor and motivate it.

Outstanding CMOs share all of those attributes of change leadership, but they are also adept at the "soft" side of the equation, with an uncommon ability to engage others in change, explain to them their roles in it and, when necessary, help them come to terms with things that take them out of their comfort zones. As one CEO recently said to me, "I care as much or more about my CMO's ability to engage and persuade internal constituents as I do about his creative or strategic acumen."

Great CMOs also drive uncompromisingly for better outcomes, no matter what. Ford Motor Co., in the face of industry and economic troubles, has recently experimented with Google display ads that vary depending on the nature of the website. Ford has also embarked on what Global VP-Marketing Jim Farley calls "turning the brand over to consumers," with 15-second ads featuring Ford owners engaging with a particular aspect of their vehicle. While results may not be traceable to a particular initiative, Ford gained market share in the past 24 months after losing it for 14 straight years.

The seismic changes now transforming marketing have made the role of the CMO more demanding than ever. New media, new channels and new expectations from boards and CEOs have converged to require CMOs to constantly improve their performance and broaden their scope. They can start by working on their ability to lead change and get results. For them, the good is not the enemy of the great; it's the platform from which they can launch the next stage of their careers.

Dick Patton leads Egon Zehnder International's Global Chief Marketing Officer practice. He can be reached at
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