3 New Year's Resolutions for CMOs

By Published on .

Credit: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

"You think you have troubles? Take a look at these," says one CMO to the other in a game of one-upmanship that swirls around the table. In truth, the 22 accomplished CMOs who joined the roundtable discussion before the 2017 CMO Awards brought 22 different sets of challenges that varied by industry, product mix, company size, distribution, CEO leadership, organizational structure, CMO responsibilities and tenure, among others. So, you might ask, what good could come from such an elite yet diverse gathering of CMOs?

The first and arguably most therapeutic revelation was that a CMO's job is damn hard, regardless of the company. For one thing, the circumstances vary widely from job to job.

"It is the most bespoke role in the C-Suite," said Kristi Maynor, who recruits and advises CMOs for the global search firm Egon Zehnder. But a lack of a standard job description doesn't mean a lack of standards for performance. Find me a CMO who says, "My job is easy," and I'll show you one whose résumé needs updating, Maynor quipped.

The second positive takeaway was, while circumstances may vary, the road to CMO success is often paved with the same building blocks: setting clear and measurable objectives; developing a great team; and having open lines of communications up, down and sideways in the organization. These managerial imperatives won't turn around a sinking ship, but they will give the CMO a fighting chance to make their mark on the organization, especially if they adopt the following three, stalwart resolutions.

Simplify the whole shebang

"Marketing has gotten a lot more complex" is a common CMO refrain -- one that is rationalized by media fragmentation and channel disruption, and propagated by the 5,000 or so marketing technology firms. As such, marketing plans are so convoluted that it takes at least one Ph.D. and one data analyst to explain the 25-page tech section alone, while the actual marketing ideas that will drive the business forward are relegated to the appendix.

So resolution No.1 involves simplifying everything. How about creating a single-page marketing plan? It's not just doable, it's imperative. For inspiration, read Byron Sharp's "How Brands Grow" (Parts 1 and 2) in which the author boils down marketing success to its ability to drive awareness and increase penetration. Then try reducing your brand promise to only a few words that inspire both employees and prospects a la "Deliver Joy" for Boxed.com (see my earlier interview with Jackson Jeyanayagam). Recognizing that "simple" is easier said than done, you may also need to mandate succinctness with employees and vendors.

Ramp up the risk

The unfortunate reality of being a CMO is that the clock is ticking faster for you than other C-suite execs. Part of this is an unrealistic expectation of the time it takes to develop and implement a new marketing program -- and the overall impact that program can have if no other fundamental aspects of the business (product, price, service or distribution) change. As such, you, the CMO, are held accountable for much that is out of your purview, resulting in a short walk on an even shorter plank.

Ironically, the answer to this conundrum is not taking the safe route. When members of the C-suite were asked what they needed from their CMO, they said, "A good CMO has to be ready to take personal risk." Maynor, whose firm did the study, explains, "You must have 90 percent of your plan baked in a very solid, defendable marketing and business plan, and having that baked gives you that opportunity to experiment." Your experiments in 2018 may not guarantee job security, but at least they will give you the satisfaction that you took your best shot.

Cultivate your curiosity

Circling back to the roundtable discussion that started this post, it would be a gross oversight not to mention that, despite their individual challenges, the 19 CMOs at the table were collectively interested in each other's situation and their personal paths to success. Being a CMO is indeed a fraternity of sorts, one with a common mission (build brands) and purpose (sell stuff), so the interest in learning from each other should not be surprising.

That said, with a new year comes the opportunity to amp up your personal curiosity and that of your teammates. Challenge each other to discover new things about your customers that can lead to product and service innovations.

Perhaps you start by blocking off a weekly "curiosity hour" to allow your mind to explore eclectic territory. When curiosity becomes a habit, your job performance improves and you'll be that much better prepared for your next opportunity -- one that inevitably will be as unique as the CMOs around the table.

Here's to a simply, risky and curious 2018!

Most Popular
In this article: