Opinion: It’s time for CMOs to recraft their agendas
At the time I arrived at Spencer Stuart years ago, as our first-ever chief marketing officer, we had just published our inaugural study of chief marketing officer tenure. Our research revealed the average tenure of CMOs was just under two years—well below other C-suite leaders. We wanted to know why. So did I.
Our conclusion back then: While many a CEO was hiring a CMO, there was not always a concrete and mutually understood agenda. Even at that time, there was a broad range of potential CMO charters—some more brand-driven, some more sales-enablement-driven, some more lead generation-driven and so on—and despite some shared sense of business strategy and even goals, CMOs and their bosses were often envisioning different agendas beneath the superficial CMO label. While two CEOs could likely discuss the role of a CFO with much clarity and unity, the same was not true of the CMO role.
Armed with this insight, we embraced the mission to push for more robust and explicit scoping and dialogue between CEOs and CMOs, whether we were in client dialogue or career-coaching conversations.
Fast forward to today. While average CMO tenure has doubled (to a hardly heartwarming 41 months), CMOs sit at a critical point in shaping their impact.
On the one hand, it has never been a more exciting time to serve in the CMO chair. CMOs have been pulled into almost every facet of the diverse external and internal forces now buffeting us all—from COVID to diversity and inclusion to purpose and ESG to the social voice of the CEO. Yet, this exciting added breadth has only magnified that challenge of clearly defining which aspects of the now vast potential CMO scope are relevant priorities for a given organization and its strategic intent.
The need for each of us to forge a sharper CMO agenda has become dramatically more necessary, as well as more challenging:
Digital transformation has fueled a far more complex marketing ecosystem and tool kit, and forces from personalization to segmentation to the proliferation of business models and channels has made marketing far more multifaceted and complex.
The unfolding shift from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism, and the accompanying broader role of business in society, has further magnified the potential charter of marketers. There are more audiences to reach and a wider portfolio of issues to address.
The business imperative of growth, and the significance of more complex customer experiences, has spawned new roles within some organizations—from chief growth officers to chief experience officers—demanding more clarity around the imperatives of a given organization, key roles, and who is expected to do what.
With attention spans dwindling, and the importance and power of messaging growing, it seems as if the success of almost anything these days is highly dependent on intelligent marketing and communications. In fact, the line between marketing and communications has become less clear in some cases.
As CMOs formulate our recommended agendas today, there is much we need to do. Both the possibilities and resulting actions will, of course, be influenced by many contextual factors: the realities of our various industry sectors, market needs, company culture and history, current organizational structures, CEO preferences, specific leadership dynamics and our own capabilities. In most cases, we need to:
Do a more effective job of educating our leaders about this more complex marketing landscape and its implications for the organization’s agenda.
Force more explicit dialogue about the imperative of focus and prioritization, ensuring that the trade-offs are understood and that clear decisions are made.
Craft plans and expectations that are sufficiently flexible to allow for evolution in focus and capabilities as the context continues to shift.
Be proactive about introducing and influencing the potential for different organizational models that could enable emerging priorities, from accelerating growth to enhancing customer experience to stimulating internal engagement.
Take our already-extensive collaboration with C-suite colleagues to an even higher level. Five years ago, few of us could have imagined just how closely we would be collaborating with the CTO or the CHRO. As we look ahead, these kinds of partnerships will only grow in importance.
Lean on both existing and new external resources, and heightened peer dialogue, to drive the most innovative ideas and up-to-date evidence. Leverage networks to keep learning.
Be even more forceful and persuasive advocates for the investment case of funding this more complex, yet more powerful, marketing agenda. Build more allies in the fight.
CMOs even a decade ago could not possibly execute against all the possibilities that were on the potential marketing map even then. Successful CMOs figured out, and socialized internally, which of the multiple potential territories to focus on to drive success for their organizations. Against the backdrop of our now vaster and more complex context, a CMO today—working with their CEO and the leadership team—must define their charter moving forward with far more clarity. The success of their organizations, as well as themselves, depends on it.