Why Global CMOs Face Greater Challenges Than Traditional Marketers

Levi's Jaime Szulc and Others Take Note: Winning Globally Is Not Only About Getting the Regional Marketing Mix Sorted Out

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Stef Gans
Stef Gans
Levi Strauss & Co. recently announced the hiring of Jaime Cohen Szulc, who is the first in the company's history to take the title of global chief marketing officer. The news is predictable yet intriguing.

It is predictable because elevating the marketing discipline to global status under the purview of one executive is a corporate trend that shows no signs of waning. Levi's, based in San Francisco, sells its jeans the world over. It operates in mature geographic markets including the U.S., Japan, Canada and France, where its brand is known and appreciated, but at the same time faces stiff competition from newer brands such as 7 For All Mankind, Joes Jeans and True Religion. Levi's greatest opportunities are in such markets as India, China, Brazil and Russia. The company's revenue, as published in Levi's most recent annual report, show the jeans maker already has significant inroads there: Nearly half of its net revenue from the past three years have been generated in Europe and Asia Pacific. The rub, Levi's management says, is that more competitors are seeking growth globally and raising the competitiveness of the international markets in which Levi's already has an established presence.

The intrigue in Levi's appointment of a global CMO is because the job of building and maintaining a global brand is still a relatively new discipline, as truly global brands are a relatively small, though fast-growing, segment.

Marketers working in global organizations with complicated reporting structures encounter a surprisingly similar set of issues, according to the results of our EffectiveBrands' Leading Global Brands Study. The study culled insights from more than 200 global brands, 2,000 marketing leaders and quantitative benchmarking data from 20,000 survey participants. The challenges a global CMO faces go well beyond the traditional marketing leadership challenges like mining for consumer insights, developing the brand's strategy and communicating effectively. Actually, making an impact on the business as a global CMO requires as much focus on building global marketing capability as on getting the marketing mix sorted.

Therefore, even with all the marketers around the globe reporting into the CMO (instead of into the regional business divisions), winning globally is simply not the same as winning locally or regionally. The global CMO must build long-term global marketing capability by driving a single global strategy, forcing organizational alignment, clarifying roles and responsibilities, safeguarding the consistency of the brand and accelerating speed to market, while building brand and marketing expertise across geographies.

For any CMO, but particularly for those in U.S.-based companies, a background in regions outside America is a huge asset. Marketing executives with significant non-U.S. experience understand that simply exporting what is done here doesn't necessarily work around the world. That sensitivity helps anyone new to the global CMO role quickly gain trust and buy-in of managers around the globe.

Jaime Szulc
Jaime Szulc
A concern for Mr. Szulc at Levi's and for anyone else new to the global CMO seat is alignment: differing strategic priorities between markets and disciplines. The CMO has to unite them with a clearly defined common goal for the brand and the business. Once that's defined, empowering managers to take action is key. In organizations with complicated reporting structures, it is really important that those in charge of implementation are empowered to be successful.

In recent years, for instance, GlaxoSmithKline's Consumer Healthcare made over its marketing organization to achieve better long-term growth. It devised a more centralized, robust and connected global marketing and R&D organization for its global brands by putting decision making in the right places and at the right levels. Global responsibility for the company's biggest brands was given to groups called "Future Teams."

Related to empowerment is clarification of roles. In Levi's case, for instance, the questions are: Who is responsible for in-store activities worldwide? Should in-store be assigned to regional executives?

Every new global CMO should investigate his company's marketing activities around the world, find what is working well and export those pockets of excellence companywide. Insufficient sharing of learning among markets is one of many firms' greatest stumbling blocks.

Global CMOs are truly a new breed. Better than most, they know from experience that the world, as Thomas Friedman put it nicely, is flattening. Taking the marketing role global is not a question of if, but how.

Stef Gans joined EffectiveBrands in 2005 after 15 years at Unilever in Europe and the United States. He began his career at the consumer packaged goods company in finance and then moved into marketing. He held several senior management roles, leaving as marketing VP in the European Ice Cream business. A graduate of the University of Amsterdam, he has a master's degree in econometrics. He leads the EffectiveBrands' strategy globally and is based in the firm's New York office.
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