Opinion: Short-term tenure for CMOs spells long-term trouble for brands
Speaking at Gap’s 50th anniversary party last November, Chief Marketing Officer Alegra O’Hare underlined her belief that brands needed to “stick to the plan.”
“I am a big believer of strategy,” she said. “My team says I’m a broken record ... but I think that it’s always a key element for successful brands and businesses. You list all the priorities that you have, and then you stick to them as you move forward.”
But less than a year after she took the role of CMO at Gap, and less than four months after her comments, O’Hare left the company.
“As we look ahead, we will be redefining the role of the chief marketing officer,” Gap said in a statement.
Gap isn’t the only brand looking to redefine the role. The position of CMO is in flux across the industry, with research showing that the average tenure for a CMO is fewer than 43 months—less than half the average tenure of a CEO. O’Hare is the latest in a long roster of high-profile marketers to be ousted over the last year.
This tells us one of two things: Either the role of the CMO needs to be completely redefined, or that the current demands and targets we are setting for CMOs are simply unachievable.
Either way, the increasingly short-term tenure for CMOs spells long-term trouble for brands.
An unhittable target
Alongside her vision to align Gap more closely with its core products, O’Hare faced the challenge of reorganizing the brand’s marketing model and aligning it with an industry shifting to digital-first marketing, as well as devising a modern omnichannel retail strategy.
Speaking after the debut of her initial campaigns, O’Hare noted that “we’re getting an incredible return on the marketing campaign ... it’s not just visually compelling and different and fresh, it’s also bringing in results that we can monitor and track.”
In our complex digital world, there is a sense that the role of the CMO is getting lost between the 1’s and 0’s. The increasingly omnipresent obsession with measurability at all costs means that CMOs are being ousted before they are given the chance to create overall value.
Les Binet and Peter Field’s luminary “The Long and Short of It” suggests that a 60:40 split between long-term brand building and short-term activation is the best recipe for effectiveness. The CMO is typically responsible for juggling this balance—but long-term brand-building efforts are much less simple to quantify into a quick data point and deliver ROI over longer timescales. So is 60 percent of a CMO’s role wasted? If the role of the CMO is simply growth at any cost, what differentiates a CMO from a chief growth officer?
Redefining the role
For brands looking to redefine the role of the CMO, the question shouldn’t be “do we need one?” but “how is our business best structured to deliver marketing results?”
In our experience, many retail businesses are hindered by silos, with disparate KPIs and competing goals. These fundamental organizational issues need to be addressed outside of marketing.
For marketing to be successful in today’s omnichannel world, every stakeholder should understand the shared growth strategy, because without a common goal it’s easy to lose the big picture. Not even the most senior marketer could enjoy success if they have to move heaven and earth to get stakeholder buy-in.
Measuring for success
The digital era has given marketers valuable new analytical tools, but these shouldn’t be used as sticks to beat the marketers they serve. For example, data-driven attribution has proved a useful ally for marketers by giving credit to the relevant touchpoints that drove a new consumer to convert online. But we know it’s not quite that simple.
Consumers are exposed to a multitude of sources in the journey to a purchase. Simple click-based measurements fail to account for any of the other sources, like offline or view-based metrics, that assist in getting the consumer to buy, for instance. Like basing decision-making on click data alone, judging the success of a CMO’s work on short-term measurements is fatally flawed.
It is an exciting time to be in our industry. New technology has enabled us to develop innovative tactics and techniques for reaching consumers—as well as providing metrics that help establish engagement and ROI. But brands shouldn’t let short-term metrics determine long-term trajectory. The job of a CMO is to devise a longer-term strategy and find ways to balance short-term success alongside this. The success O’Hare had in her 10 years with Adidas developing the Adidas Originals brand is a testament to this.
The nature of a CMO’s role is changing—but building and growing brands still takes time, budget and leadership. Amid the modern landscape of data points and quantifiable metrics, brands shouldn’t lose sight of the power of, as O’Hare said, sticking to the plan.