How Do You Become a 'Super CMO?'

Their Mission Isn't Just Marketing, but the Vision and Strategy for Overall Growth

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The political controversy over Chrysler's 2012 Super Bowl ad with Clint Eastwood describing a rebounding Detroit is a reminder of how broad the role of the CMO is becoming. No longer just the master of corporate advertising and promotions to sell a product, "Marketing's CEO," as our firm has come to call him or her, is a lead driver of growth and strategy.

The "Halftime in America " ad, which Karl Rove decried as a plug for President Obama's reelection, is more of a call-to-action for Americans to rally in times of economic hardship and political discord than it is about selling cars. It's a high-profile example of a brand embracing deep-set issues on a national stage, perhaps in recognition that until Americans feel stability again they will continue to keep their wallets closed.

Don't lose sight that Chrysler is still in the business of filling garages with the latest models. But the ad's wide scope reflects how the rapid social and technological shifts of recent years have made the business decision-making landscape infinitely more complex. Perhaps most affected is the CMO, who stands on the frontier of the new complexity with a "simple" task: understand, attract and retain customers.

CMOs have taken on the responsibility for the conversion of a business asset -- a company's marketing capacity -- into top- and bottom-line results. Like a CEO, they are setting a vision for marketing to generate short- and long-term value through the effective deployment of new and existing resources. Hence the term "Marketing's CEO."

So what powers this super species of CMO? Through conversations with more than 30 lead marketers from mid-size and Fortune 500 companies across multiple industries, CMG Partners learned what it takes to succeed. Here is what we heard:

Changing Perspectives. Marketing's CEOs have adopted the broader perspective of a business leader assessing how to get more value from the asset he or she is responsible for, as opposed to simply minding the marketing function. The shift has been proactive for some, while others either experienced a deliberate expansion of role or found themselves wearing several hats (head of sales/operations, etc.).

One example is Brian Edwards, exec VP-managing director of retail banking for Astoria Federal Savings. "When I first joined here, there were three or four people in marketing and they were basically viewed as the creative department. There was no inherent strategic value," he said. "Over the years, we have proven that marketing is the . . . retail-banking strategic conduit of the organization. Every major project that has an impact on revenue goes through marketing or is run by marketing . . . on the channel side, the product side or on the promotional side . . . marketing is now the heart and pulse."

Delivering and Communicating Enterprise Value. To show how their vision positively affects the enterprise's balance sheet and income statement over time, these CMOs are embracing (but not being enslaved by ) financial drivers and reporting of business performance. Michael Bruh, CMO and exec VP-operations for Acronym Media, told us, "The challenge is . . . managing CEO and COO expectations, getting them to focus and embrace your vision and to better understand the importance and power of marketing."

Managing Complexity. Savvy CMOs put on their "what-would-the-CEO-do" hat and seek to get better at dealing with and leading teams through complexity.

Making Innovation the Rule of the Land. If the Holy Grail for marketing is to create market demand, then innovation is paramount to its success. As Marketing's CEO, the CMO is the ultimate standard bearer for innovation, differentiation and distinction -- interpreting and converting insight into new ideas, products and services that disrupt the norm and make way for creation of new demand.

While it's still too early to know how Marketing's CEO will survive in this harsh environment, based on our conversations in this and earlier studies (more than 120 lead marketers in the last four years), we think that the CMO's evolution will significantly benefit organizations, as this shift enables marketers to fully meet the duties of their role as the primary driver of the organization's growth.

Russ Lange is a partner at CMG Partners.
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