How to Become a CMO

Seven Critical Competencies Marketers Need to Succeed

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SHANGHAI ( -- One of the major trends we are seeing amongst global top marketing talent is that the concept of traditional brand marketers is giving way to an emerging breed of "mosaic" marketers.

Marie Han Silloway
Marie Han Silloway
These are marketers who have "grown up" collecting experiences from different marketing disciplines which give them a broader view of business.

The mosaic marketer may be someone who has worked in several international markets or across different marketing or functional disciplines such as classical brand management, customer/channel marketing, retail, luxury and customer relationship management. It is exactly this collection of experiences that gives them the ability to draw inspiration from beyond their markets and competitors to lend a fresh perspective.

Given this new reality, we believe there are seven critical competencies necessary for CMOs to succeed in this playing field:

1. Be a visionary, creative thinker
See what others don't see, resulting in a stronger consumer and commercial proposition.

When P&G launched one of their shampoo brands for women in China in the early 1990's, the brand director was agile enough to launch single use sachets (trial size packages) in addition to regular bottles. They understood that female consumers holding down blue collar jobs in factories did not want to buy large amounts of shampoo. Typically, the factories had common shower facilities and they did not want to share their 'good' shampoo with others. Hence the sachets were not only affordable, but removed the embarrassment of refusing to share their nice shampoo.

2. Communicate effectively in and out of the region
The CMO in Asia is frequently interrogated about what is happening in their market by head office. A successful CMO in Asia has to be sufficiently steeped in international markets to draw on experiences to create compelling arguments for a brand's positioning and to put the market insight into a language and a context others can understand.

Dermot Boden, CMO of LG Electronics, is a 23-year veteran from the consumer healthcare world who's worked across 20 countries, such as the U.K., the Philippines, U.S., Brazil  and Japan. LG wanted someone from a different industry, but with some Asia experience, and Dermot's mandate was to work with the team to establish and elevate the marketing to world class levels. to shift the focus from product to consumer, and to lead the way to building a stronger relationship with consumers.  It was actually a huge change-management agenda requiring Dermot to understand the state of LG's marketing across all of their global markets and know how to communicate effectively, respectfully and with finesse about raising the marketing bar.

3. Handle a complex portfolio across diverse markets
A diverse brand portfolio requires thoughtful investment strategies that take into account operational needs and restrictions of the market. As a result, the new breed of CMOs must be visionary but also able to balance innovation with commercial practicalities.

4. Focus on the P&L
Marketing will receive more and more operational and bottom line targets. This is especially true in Asia/Pacific where the CMO is part of the regional leadership team. The CMO must balance the need to elevate executional capabilities with profitable growth.

When I was vice president of marketing for North Asia for a European mobile phone company, I was brought on board to shift the focus from sell-in to consumer off-take. However, to do so meant significantly increasing market penetration of our products in specific markets in China.

As you know, China is a vast country and to drive penetration to the rural markets, you need an enormous infrastructure so you need to know when to stop. Therefore, our focus was spent on cherry picking top mobile phone markets in China, prioritizing these markets for advertising and in-store promotions, being vigilant about setting distribution targets in those key markets and re-negotiating distributor margins based on new performance metrics. It wasn't sexy, but telecom marketing budgets are contingent upon sales so there was pressure on marketing to demonstrate a return on investment. We had to be practical about what we could and couldn't do.

5. Be organizationally savvy
In a common pitfall, executives don't invest enough time building "bridges" within the organization. In the field, it's the relationships that lead to trust that will get you the test market you want or the focus that you need to make an initiative successful. At headquarters, it's the relationship and trust that gets the budget approved or the KPI blessed.

The head of marketing for a major consumer high tech company says her strategy in building bridges is to fully acknowledge that "one size doesn't fit all" and that each market does have unique characteristics and business needs. Her formula for success was to build bridges with each market individually to understand the discrete situations and then synthesizing to look for common trends. It's critical to recognize when bottom up is better than top down.

6. Develop talent
The CMO needs to develop a culture that values talent and must know how to build a flexible team that can anticipate rapid market changes. Marketing is one of the hardest functions to develop competencies for because of the depth and breadth of strategy, innovation, lateral thinking and international perspective required. The best thing you can do for your top marketing talent is to give them as many broadening assignments as possible. In particular, exposure to international markets, growth markets, mature markets, religious and culturally diverse markets.

7. Speak another language
The top CMO's in Asia/Pacific that I know all speak a minimum of two languages fluently. The majority of 'wish lists' we receive from clients all include a desire for executives who speak at least one of the Asian languages. Some clients have recognized the role that Asia plays in leading innovation in certain categories and have built global R&D centers to drive innovation out of Asia in cosmetics, personal care products, food and beverage, apparel design and even sports such as Badminton.

As a CMO, it's critical to understand, appreciate and fully unleash these strengths. Speaking the local language enables one to connect with the local market and teams in a way that no other can.

The chief marketing officer role in Asia is probably one of the most complex and fascinating marketing roles in the world. In Asia, you have a fast growing operating environment that requires CMOs to be global in view, responsive, agile and culturally in-tune. Given this demanding environment and the shortage of marketing talent in the region, we see more CMOs being placed into roles that are outside their original areas of expertise but do take advantage of their core competencies thus fueling this new breed of mosaic marketers.

As you look at your marketing leadership, you need to ask yourself, how internationally minded is your team? Have they collected enough experiences to grow into a world class mosaic marketer? If the answer is No to any of the above, create some systems and development plans to cultivate your talent because this new playing field is here to stay.

Marie Han Silloway is a senior client partner at Korn/Ferry International in Shanghai.

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