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Finding your CMO 2.0: 5 Attributes for Longevity in the C-Suite

Oct 18, 2017

I was inspired by an HBR article to contribute my thoughts to the challenges faced by CMOs and the reasons behind the rather short tenure in their role on average.

While I usually find HBR articles to be thought-provoking and inspiring, in this instance my only reaction was: “That’s it?!”.

The authors contend that the short time a CMO spends in the job (the shortest of the C-Suite) is due to a lack of trust. This is caused by a misalignment between job responsibilities and CEO expectations (who have come to expect a significant impact on the business by their CMO but fail to give them the tools to enact those changes).

Though I don’t disagree that CMOs jobs should be better defined and aligned with their boss’ expectations, it seems the authors completely missed the underlying reason for those challenges and never got to the root cause of the problem.

This is, of course, my personal opinion. I do work directly with many Global Fortune 1,000 CMOs and as such my views are qualitatively informed by my experience, but neither I nor Traackr, have conducted a study in the same way the authors of the article have.

Marketing Has Never Been Harder

Here is why CMOs fail and disappoint too often: the job of a CMO today is incredibly hard. Marketing, especially for large organizations that weren’t “born digital,” is the hardest it has ever been.

Technology has triggered a tsunami of change for brands that transcends industries. Companies have to reinvent their relationship with their customers while not losing a beat on their more traditional business.

Marketing must own the customer journey, which has become tangled and unpredictable. According to Lisa Joy Rosner, Traackr customer and former CMO of Neustar and NetBase, “The role of the CMO has become a delicate balancing act between data science, technology and the art of infusing creativity to capture the attention of your customer at every touchpoint.”

As such, challenges are outwards towards those customer communities that have very high and diverse expectations of the brand. They are inwards towards the organization and its people, and their endemic resistance to change.

Your CMO finds herself in the epicenter of all those tensions that will ultimately affect every customer and every employee in your company.  There is no job spec that will solve this.

Now, some CMOs are better equipped than others to deal with the context of today’s marketing. It is essential companies seek the right profile for their CMO to thrive in today’s environment. But what does that look like?

To dig deeper into this ideal profile, I reached out to Mark Schaefer, an expert in our industry and long-time friend of Traackr. Reflecting on the rapidly changing marketing world, Mark affirmed, “CMOs require an ability to observe, assess, and respond quickly to change. They have to be humble and courageous enough to erase barriers, long-standing teams, and past initiatives, even if they were “yours.” The word that comes to mind is “agile.”

Here are five attributes companies should seek in a long-lasting CMO:

  1. Empathetic: CMOs stuck in brand-centricity (rather than customer-centricity) will undoubtedly fail and may bring down your organization with them. The drive to understand your customer and fight on their behalf for your company to be a better company and make better products ought to supersede all else.
  2. Ruthless: it is certain that CMOs will have to gut their own organization to build up the new skills set they need. Many marketers will show a willingness and ability to adapt. Some won’t and will need to go.
  3. Change agent: the CMO 2.0 should have a healthy track record of making change happen* in their previous organizations (with successes and failures), and demonstrate the method to their madness on how they approach change.
  4. Strategic thinking: a core part of the role also involves a CMO’s ability to identify and press on the key levers for change that will ripple through the organization.
  5. Truth to power: the CMO 2.0 should demonstrate the essential quality of being able to tell the rest of the leadership team and the board where the company and brand are at odds with customers’ expectations and propose ways to reconcile the two.

Give your new CMO the room to be successful, and to take chances and make the most of the attributes listed above. If they aren’t empowered to succeed, none of the above matters.

We live in a tumultuous time for marketers. Change is full of promises, and I’m convinced it will be for the betterment of marketing and brands. It makes the CMO’s job highly volatile and arduous. Again, no job spec will fix that.

Beyond finding those with the right profile, it is essential that you acknowledge the fact that a CMO's function in this quickly changing environment for brands will make them the tip of the spear to transform your organization. If allowed, they can lead your organization's transformation into a digitally savvy, customer-centric company, and their mandate ought to reflect this reality.

In any case, next time you meet your CMO friends, remember how hard their job is and give them a hug #HugaCMO.

(*) Notice the emphasis on making change happen, not talking about change. It’s too easy for people in senior positions to talk their way through any situation and there are so many buzzwords to do it. Ask specific questions about change projects. Those who spearheaded these projects will geek out on sharing those details.