Marketing Needs a CMO

Why It's Time to Restore Marketing's Credibility by Driving Growth

By Published on .

Jeff Jones
Jeff Jones
Shocked -- again. That's how I felt when I saw in BusinessWeek yet another example of marketing being totally misunderstood.

An article titled "At Amazon, Marketing Is for Dummies" said, "Instead of lavish ads and splaying its logo everywhere, it invests in technology and distribution -- and the results are startlingly effective." Last time I checked, product and distribution are two of the essential pillars of marketing. What the article didn't say, but should have, is that Amazon has built its business without much advertising. So?

This stands in stark contrast to the dot-bomb when hundreds of companies were created, and CMO became the title du jour. The prevailing "get large or get lost" wisdom drove companies toward publicity stunts, Super Bowl one-offs and multimillion-dollar sweepstakes and away from anything resembling marketing strategy. Brand-building gave way to branding. Marketing became soft, and credibility faded.

Here we stand, on the verge of economic recovery, with brands having nowhere to go but up. Marketing should be leading us through growth, but it's not. And we all have a role to play.

It should be basic, right? Marketing isn't advertising. At Coca-Cola, Sergio Zyman used to teach us the role of marketing is to sell more stuff, to more people, more of the time, at higher prices. But in too many companies, marketing means little more than stewarding the brand. And by "brand," most people really mean advertising.

Too many companies have carved up marketing's role. Consumer insight lives in strategy, and brand experience in operations. Measurement resides with finance, and innovation happens in R&D. All that delegating defeats the purpose of marketing. It sets up marketing for failure because it doesn't have the tools to be accountable for its very purpose: to drive growth, the single most important element all brands face right this very minute. If there has ever been a time for a chief marketing officer, it's now.

The truth is, marketing needs marketing. What if marketing had a CMO? How would we reposition the role to restore credibility?

Ad agencies, forget about the ads for a minute.
Agencies have to recognize, and reorganize, around the fact that it's not just about the ads. I believe to my core that a big idea brilliantly executed can change the world, but our true strategic value lies in helping clients be successful by navigating the digital tsunami, truly delivering integration and being accountable to our own recommendations. This kind of partnership not only gives credibility to marketing, but also helps demonstrate it is more than communications.

Universities, make marketing relevant again.
I routinely hear in the classroom at Duke and UNC that marketing has become a lost profession. Students don't see its value because textbooks make its principles irrelevant and dated. What if universities taught marketing with even more real-time, hands-on applications? Or learned a few lessons from IIT Institute of Design's Master of Design/MBA degree that blends the unique skills of business acumen and design?

Hiring executives, put some teeth into the CMO job description.
If a CMO were given all the tools she needs to live fully in the role, she'd own growth. And she'd have the hardest job in corporate America, because nobody else must be extraordinary at strategy and analytics, finance, consumer trends, creativity, new media and innovation. Sure, this person may be hard to find, but they would be much more successful and valuable to the organization.

Let's shift the conversation from responsibilities to accountability, from deliverables to outcomes. And stop using the CMO title as bait to attract qualified candidates. There is nothing inferior about marketing communications; let's call it what it is.

Executive recruiters, don't be so eager to profit from churn.
There's nothing wrong with filling roles, but you have strategic counsel to provide. Marketing will regain credibility when the recruiter says to the CEO, "You don't need another CMO. I placed him two years ago, and he's one of the best in the business." What if the problem is somewhere else in the organization? What if there was a new model for evaluating marketing talent before they are hired? What if recruiters weren't paid for the search but for the success of the individuals they placed?

CMOs, reclaim your rightful role.
First, stop reading and take the survey at Better yet, make sure your CEO takes it, too. You'll both see very quickly if your organization is taking full advantage of what a wholly empowered CMO has to offer.

The best CMOs are great business leaders with political savvy, original thinking and an incredible ability to lead and inspire all levels of an organization. They know what works and seek what's next -- all at the same time. They're people like Cammie Dunaway, Jeffrey Hayzlett, Eric Ryan, Richard McDonald, Becky Saeger and David Burwick.

I'm frustrated by marketing being so misunderstood by so many, and I'm tired of reading articles placing all of the responsibility on the CMO. If we want to reinvent the conversation from service provider to growth champion, we all have a stake, and a role to play, to benefit future marketers in generations to come.

Marketing cannot become a lost profession; it is one of the toughest, most demanding and most rewarding roles in any organization.

Jeff Jones is partner-president at McKinney.
Most Popular
In this article: