All Articles Marketing Marketing Strategy The chief marketing officer as CEO of Marketing

The chief marketing officer as CEO of Marketing

The chief marketing officer as CEO of Marketing

6 min read

Marketing Strategy



This year’s Russell Reynolds survey and study of CMO leadership reported that there are record levels of turnover and volatility in the head of marketing role, with increasing expectations for impact on company performance.

This is both good news and a challenge.

The good news: Marketing is being seen as an important contributor to moving business model levers and is increasingly critical to the demands all executives are experiencing to lead through the change, ambiguity and uncertainty of today’s marketplace. Marketing brings a lot to any innovation effort.

The challenge: The function is on a roller coaster ride of disruption and reinvention, and often the role is not well understood, empowered or armed with the resources, capabilities and talent to perform at the level of what is possible when the conditions are right.

Ensuring the CMO can operate at full potential is a goal within reach of any CEO and the CMO’s colleagues, willing to reframe their view of what marketing is, and support the CMO who has the skill and will to be the CEO of Marketing.

The CMO position is a made-to-order role for the change maker — those who like hairball challenges and who want to make a difference. They are energized about anticipating and adapting to the expectations of the connected user, mastering an accelerating digital learning curve, and negotiating a new role and relationship to the CEO and other c-suite colleagues.

The CMO must move well beyond being the executive overseeing a communications, research and media-buying cost center, and negotiating what attribution assumptions to bake into the budget.  What’s needed now?

  • The role: The CMO must be an executive with authority over the business model levers to attract and engage customers.
  • The wiring: Their mindset must be to orchestrate and lead, not to control.
  • The goal: To deliver on brand positioning 100% of the time, and not just as a communications exercise, but, rather, through every aspect of the business model that affects users, buyers and influencers of the brand.

The CMO is asked to be a superhero — one who speedily turns customer-centricity into P&L results, uses technology and data analytics to drive performance, delivers marketing ROI, drives leads to sales channels and advances capabilities to keep up with marketplace opportunities. They are leaders who are asked to get way beyond intellectualizing the need for change, and quickly make change happen.

Being data-driven is core to the wiring of the new CMO who can accomplish all of this. Being a member of the millennial generation may be a sufficient credential too, but based on what I have heard in dozens of conversations as I researched The Change Maker’s Playbook, a profile based upon demographics is at best insufficient and at worst misguided. From startups to Fortune 500 leaders who have a modern vision of what the role can be, the quest is on for a CMO who is:

  • Purpose-driven all the way through to daily execution, decisions and direction
  • A seeker, seeder and scaler of innovation
  • An assembler of the enabling mix of analytical, technical, logical and creative capabilities
  • A connector, especially of customer insights to financial drivers, and of how to execute for results
  • A collaborator who can motivate, include, influence and engage others — on their team, across their peer group and the entire organization and through their external network

This is a tall-order profile.  To find your CEO of Marketing:

Reframe what marketing can mean. Marketing can be the discipline that connects brand to customers to create growth. For those who have defined marketing as the advertising, promotions and research function, this suggests a much-expanded view.

Maximize the CMO’s potential by envisioning a function that can:

  • Be immersed in customers’ lives to champion their needs.
  • Surface, synthesize and apply market insight and data across many decisions, beyond those traditionally associated with the function.
  • Test and learn — acquiring and applying insights and data to get better.
  • Have a financial focus on how to drive purchases, recommendations and the other customer behaviors that move your business.
  • Be a collaborator with colleagues – product, technology, data, service, risk management and all other functions whose daily choices have opportunity to align more closely with the brand purpose and positioning.

Look to the CMO to embrace the mature methodologies that matter, and meld these with what technology and data now make possible. Segmentation, A/B testing and positioning methodologies work and are essential in an environment of channel proliferation and media fragmentation. Apply these alongside customer-journey mapping, AI, machine-learning capabilities and the best social, mobile, community and other connection tactics to strengthen customer engagement.

Hold the marketing function accountable for concrete metrics that make sense. The best marketing metrics focus on the drivers of prospect and customer behavior that affect the business model. While awareness, intent to buy and volume of qualified leads are on the list, other metrics linked to P&L outcomes also belong on the marketing scorecard — accounts opened, sales closed, evidence of loyalty such as repeat purchase and recommendation to others. But be aware of the dependencies beyond marketing to move these levers, and make sure all colleagues upon whom the CMO is dependent have a stake. Otherwise, the CMO will be set up to fail.

Provide sponsorship and support. The marketing function will continue to transform, irrespective of the size or maturity stage of the business. The CMO’s success increases in a culture of where purpose and insights matter, and where leaders keep the customer at the center of decisions.

Chances are your CMO will be mortal. So, how will they succeed? CMOs who rise to become the CEO of their function will:

  • Operate with a relentless focus on purpose and customer.
  • Achieve differentiation that matters to the people whom the brand wants to serve.
  • Build and motivate a diverse team of collaborators.
  • Lead with openness and trust, clarity of vision and connection to execution and business model drivers.
  • Have the authority, empowerment, alignment and support to deliver on the high expectations for which they are being held accountable.

Amy J. Radin, author of The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company, is a recognized Fortune 100 chief marketing and innovation officer with a record of moving ideas to performance in complex businesses, including Citi, American Express, E*TRADE and AXA. Follow Amy on Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mail from the Mobile Marketing Association, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.