2018 Trends: CMOs must “grow or go”

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By: RickFerguson |

Posted on November 21, 2017

Is the CMO an endangered species?Is the CMO an endangered species? Any executive in a CMO role understands too well the scrutiny that goes with the job—scrutiny that has seen the average CMO tenure among consumer brands fall to 42 months, down six months in two years. With most consumer brands focused on digital transformation with the goal of becoming more customer-focused, the pressure is on CMOs to lead that transformation successfully, or fall by the wayside.

By Rick Ferguson

AdWeek has the latest dire news for CMOs, sparked by a recent Forrester report that predicts flat advertising spend in 2018, which will likewise see ad agencies facing tremendous pressure to produce results or find the CMO role dissolved in favor of the more trendy “Chief Growth Officer” role. Money quote:

“Evidence of the chief marketer’s expanded charge already abounds. Coca-Cola dissolved its CMO role in March 2017, folding brand marketing, customer experience and strategy into a CGO role. No longer about creating stirring, beautiful campaigns that resonate, the function of marketing at Coke has become one that employs campaigns as tactics that support a broader growth strategy… Fast-moving consumer goods brands like Colgate-Palmolive, Coty and Mondelez, Hershey’s, and Kellogg’s have restructured similarly.”

One might wonder why the CEO isn’t the “chief growth officer,” which leads to the possibility that the Chief Growth Officer role might ultimately function as the “Chief Scapegoat” should growth fall short of projections. The trend is real, however, as evinced by this Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year. Money quote #2:

“A study of CMOs from 100 of the top U.S. ad spenders found that the average tenure for marketing czars fell to 42 months in 2016, down from 44 months in 2015. ‘Tough business headwinds, new technologies and pressures to change quickly’ are among the many reasons for the churn, said Greg Welch, a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s marketing officer practice. ‘It’s the perfect storm.’ The higher turnover rate is being driven, in part, by the tough business conditions that many industries are dealing with, from retailers to consumer-goods companies -- sectors that have seen profits slide as consumer shopping and eating habits change.”

The pressure on CMOs is driven largely by the disconnect between the historical CMO role and the pressures of organizations faced with immediate needs to undergo top-to-bottom digital transformations, become more customer-centric, navigate changing consumer expectations, and still meet quarterly analyst targets. It’s a Herculean task that perhaps few organizations will collectively meet; asking a single executive to manage it seems a unique form of cruelty.

So, how can CEOs help CMOs succeed in this era of transformation? A recent Harvard Business Review cover story has a helpful primer; here’s a TL;DR guide for the time-starved:

Step 1: Define the Role. Is the CMO a product manager? A salesperson? A brand manager? Or a strategist? HBR highlights ill-defined job portfolios as one of the chief culprits of CMO failure.

Step 2: Match Responsibilities to the Job’s Scope. A job description is one thing; an actual portfolio of responsibilities is another. HBR says they should match, which sounds like a good idea to us.

Step 3: Align Metrics with Expectations. Another no-brainer: Once you’ve defined the role and granted the CMO the requisite responsibilities to achieve defined objectives, you must match success metrics with those objectives.

Step 4: Find Candidates with the Right Fit. HBR points out that CMOs come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, many of which don’t necessarily align with the role’s expectations.

All common sense suggestions, of course. But the question remains: Will the traditional CMO role go the way of the dinosaurs? And if it does, how will these new “Chief Growth Officers” succeed where the CMO role has failed? HBR offers a useful description of the CMO of the future:

“CMOs are expected to creatively apply insights to business challenges, validate decisions with data, create seamless customer experiences across media and revenue channels, and lead efforts to put the customer at the center throughout the organization.”

Whether you call the role a Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Customer Officer, or Chief Growth Officer, the requirement is the same: Bend every role and capability within your organization to building strong, sustainable, and profitable customer relationships. The CMO might be the scapegoat, but the success or failure of this mission ultimately rests with the one place where they buck stops: The CEO’s office.

Rick Ferguson is Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group and a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).