Preparing the Next Generation of Chief Marketers

Kellogg School of Management Launches Program To Help Current, Prospective CMOs Acquire New Skills

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Among leading industry observers and the media, there's widespread consensus that dramatic changes in the business landscape have made the role of CMO ever more complex. Globalization and technological advances have left organizations struggling to adapt their strategies to meet the heightened expectations of consumers. These developments have created more dynamic and potentially more profitable opportunities for companies that can infuse marketing into every facet of the enterprise.

While the challenges are widely acknowledged, solutions have proved to be in much shorter supply. Prescriptions have ranged from replacing the CMO with a chief customer officer to doing away with the CMO altogether. It's little wonder, then, that many CMOs are struggling with the lack of concrete direction about what their role should be, let alone how to make a tangible impact on the organization.

To address these challenges, we created the CMO Program. A critical component is to instill a broader perspective among CMOs for the complexities of global opportunities. Accordingly, we have assembled a roster of instructors that include leading faculty and practitioners from Fortune 500 companies. The course, developed for future leaders of Fortune 500 companies across a range of industries, combines the latest research and insight from academia, mentoring from CMOs and CEOs, as well as hands-on problem solving to build capabilities through experiential learning.

This week Northwestern's Kellogg CMO Program is hosting 21 current and prospective chief marketing officers for an intensive two-day executive development course. The program, which will conclude with another installment in late July, aims to provide participants with the perspective and skills they need to excel in their new role.

Given marketing's enhanced profile, we believe the next wave of CMOs must accomplish three core objectives to be successful:

1. Drive top-line growth and brand strength in a new era of empowered consumers. CMOs must be able to demonstrate their importance to business growth and reorient company culture around customers. Doing so requires that the CMO engage functional areas across the organization to ensure that customer experience is consistent with brand promise. At the same time, the explosion of media means that effective communications must coordinate customer outreach, public relations, investor relations, communications, sales and customer service, among others. To assume this role, CMOs will need to embrace a cross-functional approach.

2. Anticipate and build the marketing competencies of the future. Companies across industries are struggling to extract value from rapidly evolving technologies such as data analytics and social media, and CMOs will increasingly drive these efforts. While tactics will come and go, the more significant challenge will be organizational. Companies will have to make a massive investment to find, attract, integrate, retain and develop key talent such as data scientists and social media specialists. To be effective, CMOs will also have to gain a better understanding of analytics, social media monitoring and the organizational challenges they pose.

3. Navigate a significant career transition into the C-suite. While the average CMO tenure has nearly doubled since 2006, to 45 months, that's hardly cause for celebration. Executives still have a relatively short time to implement their strategy and demonstrate progress. What's more, the transition period can be critical, with new CMOs seeking to gain an understanding of the challenges. Since many executives have long viewed marketing as more art than science, CMOs must embrace hard metrics to more effectively advance the customer perspective in the C-suite and realize opportunities arising from this approach.

These objectives will require CMOs to expand beyond their traditional responsibilities. Yet many marketing executives lack the range of skills and knowledge to excel in this changing environment. One of the primary obstacles for potential CMOs is that so much of the knowledge they must acquire to be successful lies beyond their formal marketing organization. With little time to learn on the job, the most successful candidates will focus on professional development in the years preceding their ascendancy. Leadership training programs have long been offered to aspiring executives, but CMO candidates must actively seek out mentoring opportunities in increasingly critical areas such as technology and data analytics.

Gregory Carpenter is the James Farley/Booz Allen Hamilton Professor of Marketing Strategy at the Kellogg School of Management and Faculty Director of the Kellogg Markets and Customers Initiative (KMCI). He serves as Academic Director of the Kellogg CMO program.

Eric Leininger is Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing at Kellogg School of Management and Executive Director of the Kellogg CMO Program.
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