Effective Leadership Strategies for Chief Marketing Officers

September 8, 2009Sparxoo


By David Capece, Managing Partner

According to Greg Welch of Spencer Stuart, the average Chief Marketing Officer tenure in 2008 was 28 months, up four months since 2004. In comparison, the average CIO lasts 38 months, and no other c-level executive checks in under 46.  Earlier this year, Forbes.com discussed why Chief Marketing Officers have a short life.

CMOs have to balance their responsibility to drive business performance and brand development over the long-run, with the need for short-term results.  In the quick-turn world of CMOs, sometimes tactics drive strategies. Seth Godin does a nice job of illustrating a world dependent on tactics in “when tactics drown out strategy.”  Everyone needs results NOW, so CMOs are often stuck in the loop of trying to drive immediate results instead of creating a plan that could work but may take months to come to fruition.

For aspiring CMOs, newly appointed CMOs, or those who have managed to survive in this difficult environment, we share our perspective on key areas of focus in providing marketing leadership.

The Customer is #1
Your customer is the buyer and the decision maker.  The best CMOs immerse themselves in the customer mindset.  Learn as much as you can about your customer through research, collecting customer data, considering competitive options, and understanding the overall market reality from your customer’s perspective.  Beyond this, great marketers proactively get out of the office and get out of the conference/focus group rooms to watch consumers in their homes, in their cars and offices, in the retail environments.  Watching the consumer interact with the brand (or competing brand offerings) in real-life yields observations (reactions, emotions, work-arounds, combinations with other products/services) that offer insight into the “real” concerns, issues, and joys of the consumer – and the things that that are often unable to articulate.

This may sound obvious and easy, but it can be quite challenging.  There are so many channels to listen to your customer.  For example, are you doing a good job of monitoring customer feedback online?  Are your databases advanced?  Are you asking the right questions in focus groups?  Are you even talking to the right customer groups (don’t underestimate the importance of segmentation, targeting, and consumer profiles).  Bottom line: make it a priority to talk to current and prospective customer to understand why they love/hate your product along with the competitors.

Make an Emotional Connection
Imagine that you are providing commentary to a Japanese tourist at a Russian wedding and your native language is English. Indeed, sometimes it seems like you need to be a world-class interpreter in order to effectively market.  The bride and groom speak Russian and embody Russian mores, habits, etc. The tourist speaks Japanese and embodies those mores, habits, etc. Now you must take the essence of this joyous occasion in Russian and convey the full emotional aspect to the Japanese tourist. The fact is that businesses and customers don’t always speak the same language, but you’ve got to convey the full emotions to the customer in the language s/he understands while communicating the essential, primary benefits of the product/service/company. To support that ability, it is essential to understand individual and mass psychology, communications, branding, positioning and macroeconomic factors. More simply, you need to translate your product or service into an extremely compelling value proposition that motivates your target audience to purchase.

Innovative Thinking
CMOs are challenged to constantly embrace new tools and innovations.  The mark of a great CMO is the desire to continually learn, and a great way to do this is continually testing market and customer assumptions. Marketers are often at their best when they are thinking creatively.  And while creativity can be applied to branding and design, it should also be applied to how you market your product.  In an era where marketers have less control over their communications, that means experimenting with social media.  Be creative in applying strategies across tactics in new ways.  As you stretch the organization, be fearless in implementing change to approaches, methodologies and campaigns – even if it is a significant departure from the past.

Business Performance
It is imperative that you and the executive team are aligned with goals, strategy, and financial management.  As you develop marketing strategies, be sure to communicate the strategic, operational, and financial implications of your marketing decisions.  As you analyze ROI and make pricing decisions, make an effort to collaborate with finance to help drive decision making.  Conversations with the CFO don’t always have to be about budget cuts, after all, you’re on the same team.  Ultimately, your CEO will love you if your creativity leads to increased revenue and/or cost savings.

Photo by Peter Galbraith from Stock.Xchng