How can CMOs succeed when the role itself is fatally flawed?

Adrià Tormo on Unsplash
Adrià Tormo on Unsplash

With CMOs facing more pressure than ever to deliver, we may need to redefine expectations.

Thanks to a relentless focus on short-term results, the pressure on CMOs is higher than ever.

Rapid CMO turnover in the industry is constant. Just in the past month, Ford CMO Joy Falotico stepped down after joining the company in 2018. Earlier this year, Gap CMO Alegra O’Hare departed after just four months. The average tenure for a CMO is less than 43 months – not even half the length of the average CEO.

This tells me one of two things: either the role of the CMO is unrealistic and unachievable, or the role as we currently know it needs to be redefined.

Product over message

In today’s world, you can’t market your way out of having a terrible product. Brands are more prone to scrutiny than ever before, and consumers expect more than good marketing to buy into a brand.

I’ve seen so many brands ready to go live with a huge campaign, only for the product team to fundamentally change something about what’s being sold at the last second. How can marketers drive sales when they have no control over what they’re marketing?

The modern CMO is held accountable for the success of the business and its products, but the role still isn’t plugged into critical business decisions. It’s time for the functions of product and marketing to merge.  

This explains Facebook’s elevation of Alex Schultz to CMO last month. Schultz is a product guy. He’s been responsible for developing the Facebook product, including tackling the platform’s brand safety issues, as well as misinformation surrounding COVID-19. This integrated focus on product and business is vital to the longevity of the modern CMO.

Forget the metrics

Marketers are borderline obsessed with short-term metrics such as click-through rates and return on ad spend. This focus too often creates a rod for CMOs.

I have worked with CMOs who want to blast the same group of people with performance campaigns to jolt temporary spikes in success, all at the expense of investing in the brand. But brands can’t grow without a healthy mix of both.

Focus on short-term metrics only increases the already sky-high expectations on the CMO to deliver, creating the vicious cycle of short-tenure leadership and a lack of brand continuity.

It’s on CMOs to educate the rest of the c-suite about the importance of investing in the entire marketing funnel. Speak in their language and set realistic expectations.

Now is arguably a better time than ever to redefine the CMO role. The industry is evolving, with privacy regulations and the death of the third-party cookie obscuring the precise measurement marketers once had. Brands should embrace the opportunity to move away from performance-only mindsets and test and learn in new channels that could deliver long-term success.

The CMO job is a remarkably challenging one, but it’s not beyond repair. Now is the time to redefine this role, and the role of marketing in the business.

Kris Tait is managing director at Croud US.

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