Unreasonable Expectations Endanger CMOs

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Nobody can do everything that CMOs are asked to do, Jared Blank argues.
Nobody can do everything that CMOs are asked to do, Jared Blank argues. Credit: Nastco/iStock

Own the customer experience. Represent the voice of the customer. Uncover data-driven insights and implement tactical solutions based on those findings. Create a brand. Understand an ever-changing digital landscape. Launch ad campaigns. Manage marketing agencies. Infuse the brand into a growing number of touchpoints, online and off. Select and oversee an alphabet soup of DSP, DMP, CRM, ESP. And on, and on and on.

The purview of the chief marketing officer has become an amorphous, every-growing amalgam of traditional marketing, technology management (vendor selection, implementation and execution) and, of course, the creation of brilliant ad campaigns.

Why do we keep reading about how CMOs last less than two years in their position? Because nobody can do all of those things.

This template for the modern CMO isn't new. In 2003, the CEO of Harrah's Entertainment (now folded into Caesars Entertainment) wrote an article explaining how the company transformed into a data-driven organization. "We use database marketing and decision-science-based analytical tools to widen the gap between us and casino operators who base their customer incentives more on intuition than evidence," he wrote. "[W]e've come out on top in the casino wars by mining our customer data deeply, running marketing experiments, and using the results to develop and implement finely tuned marketing and service-delivery strategies that keep our customers coming back."

That reads like a job description for a CMO in 2017. And it's one that's impossible for any one person to do successfully.

To succeed, CMOs need to narrow their scope and surround themselves with senior leaders who can take on some of the more traditional roles in the marketing organization. All the while, they need to be aware of the rise of the chief digital officer, which has threatened to shift data-focused strategic initiatives out of the CMO's hands, leaving the head of marketing with oversight of brand initiatives -- a perilous spot to be in for today's numbers-driven organizations.

Against this backdrop, CMOs must:

  • Focus on the link between data-driven insights and actions. If data reveals a segment of customers returns to stores less frequently, what can be done to reverse the trend? If store conversion drops in certain markets, what initiatives will help close sales? If site traffic drops, how can visitors be acquired? Much has been made of the customer journey, but the CMO should focus on what to do when the journey deviates from expectations.
  • Become a well-respected team-builder across the organization. Because many departments oversee pieces of the customer journey, the CMO needs to build deep relationships across teams to help respond to new insights. Do store sales staff need to be re-trained? Does the call center have the necessary resources to provide the service that customers expect? Is the CIO introducing technology that will help the marketing team find new insights to drive the business? The CMO must be a consensus builder who can help drive these large-scale initiatives across the company.
  • Set expectations about what can reasonably be accomplished. The marketing organization isn't a magical cure for sagging sales. Creating an organization that's focused not only on generating customer insights, but also on implementing marketing-led responses to those insights, takes time. It involves hiring the right team and building relationships across departments, enabling them to respond quickly across channels. It's up to the CMO to buy that time and give themselves a chance to succeed.

The CMO can't realistically understand and manage the entire customer experience from end-to-end, but they can lead the charge by creating the right internal relationships and taking a more focused approach. At the end of the day, organizations -- starting with the board and the CEO -- need to empower CMOs to focus on specific agendas and, most importantly, give them the time to do so.

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