When The CMO Speaks, Leaders Must Listen: It’s the Time to Synthesize

“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” – Seth Godin

The consumer has morphed into a complex entity today from its simple, gullible self of the yesteryears. The pandemic has changed consumerism and the average consumer in unimaginable ways. Also, there is the generational effect with the growth in the young population.

Plus, markets aren’t kind. Inflation is too high for comfort. Rampant layoffs and the resultant fear of financial security have compounded the discomfort. Economic or financial certainty is only diminishing by the hour.
Net result – today, consumers are aware, shrewd, fiercely individual, and highly conscious.

With markets at their yo-yoing best and the emergence of a transformed consumer, the short- and long-term growth of organizations is at stake. Amid little visibility on financials and few solutions to address the changing market conditions, companies need to tread extremely carefully.

This means taking very calculated decisions in marketing products and services. Marketing should be precise, incisive and effective. Knowing the pulse of the consumer, using emotional intelligence to build relationships, knowing how to tell the story—all are key. One wrong step and it could spell disaster for the bottom line.

You need someone adept in judging how the company’s products/services are positioned in the market; and how to re-posture the company, if required.

Enter Chief Marketing Officer, CMO.

According to the American Marketing Association, the CMO is the highest authority in marketing in a company, responsible for directing the marketing strategy.

As organizations grow, the role of the CMO is also evolving.

Data, the appetizer

The latest (September 2022) 29th edition of the CMO Survey, sponsored by Deloitte, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association, throws light on how marketing has changed in the post-COVD era.

  • Customers continue to prioritize quality during purchases, but given the inflationary environment, low prices are featuring in the top priorities.
  • Optimism about the US economy has declined below historic averages for most sectors.
  • Marketers are using multiple channels to sell, including face-to-face, direct-to-consumer, digital, and social channels.
  • Close to 43% of marketers in the survey agreed that inflation has led to a decrease in marketing spending. With inflation affecting marketing activities, pricing and value proposition have come under pressure.
  • Because of investment in digital marketing, the marketing budget, as a proportion of a company’s overall budget, has increased significantly. This also underscores the growing importance of marketing across organizations, especially during the pandemic.
  • R&D budgets are just 4.4% higher than marketing budgets.
  • Marketing analytics play a key role in marketing decisions and contribute to company performance. Marketers have nearly doubled their investments in developing marketing-related knowledge.

Given the fluid dynamics in the marketing domain and its growing significance, the CMO has emerged as a high-impact leader.

But, many times, the CMO’s words go unheard. In fact, in some organizations, the CMO is relegated to being a titular head. They are confined to rudimentary advertising for branding and legacy tasks, such as campaign management, in the name of marketing strategy. Worst still, if things don’t go right with the broader management’s ideas, CMOs are made a scapegoat and culled without a hitch.

Why should CMOs be heard?

  • Sitting on a gold mine alone does not help – you need to dig it. Just having a CMO is not enough. Use their experience in customer relationship building and insights on collaboration. Leaders can leverage this to collaborate with the C-suite and develop incisive strategies.
    Involving CMOs meaningfully can help turn around every aspect, from product or service innovation to talent acquisition and management.
    This is also being realistic and forward-looking. As business and marketing pursuits change, execution must change too.
  • The common factor. This is what a modern-day CMO is.
    Given their deep understanding of marketing, the knowledge CMOs bring can drive growth and profits in any division. By this standard, theirs is the only role that cuts across functions and verticals.
    They should be involved actively in revenue and profit generation. Today, marketing has changed drastically from what it was earlier. New channels are involved, while technology is wreaking havoc. Amid the disruption, the execution of marketing activities has changed considerably in style and scope.
    The present day CMOs, with their experience in multiple aspects of marketing, can contribute to margins. They bring robust capabilities in marketing, are aware of the latest technologies, and offer sound insights on technical reach, customer experience and relationship management.
    With their awareness of the newest platforms and understanding of marketing analytics, they are more like facilitators of innovation. They are data-intelligent.
    The value they bring to the table can be applied to all products and services to boost their marketability, which will eventually be accretive to margins.
    This significantly expands the scope for their involvement in global operations across divisions and domains.
  • Fables made Aesop famous. In the end, it’s all about telling and selling your story, isn’t it?
    That is what marketers do, including your CMO. Given them the freedom to tell the story. They know best how to present the news or information respectably before customers. They are experts in selling the story of your brand to build its relevance and draw customer participation.
    The role of a CMO is increasingly getting complex, especially given the uncertain times we are in. To ensure its continuity and relevance, organizations must take them seriously.

What can a leader do to make the CMO’s role more effective?

  • The beginning is the most important part of the work. Hire well.
    Figure out what are your requirements. CMOs specialize in different aspects. Some are storytellers, others delve more into analytics. One will help you relate better with your customers and build strong relationships with them. The other specializes in growth marketing and will help you understand market trends.
    Depending on your business requirements, you must go for the right hire.
    Develop a clear job description for a more effective search. It may not be very comprehensive, but it should set expectations right. Clarity about the profile, in line with your marketing requirements, will help you attract suitable candidates.
    Look for a person with expertise in structuring various teams under the broad head of marketing. These could be content marketing, product marketing, brand management, customer relationship management, etc.
    Bring in a CMO who can understand which of these your organization lacks. The individual should be able to form or group teams to cater to the need.
    OR, if sourcing is a challenge……hire the services of experts, like Vantedge Search. We specialize in strategic leadership search and talent advisory. Our expertise lies in connecting high performers with high-growth companies.
    Vantedge Search works closely with senior leaders and organizations to understand their requirement. Leveraging our deep expertise and experience in executive talent search, we help identify challenges, recommend the right best talent, and determine strategies and focus areas for improvement.
  • Alignment affects perception – and results. This will lend more teeth to the role of the CMO.
    Marketing, like any other function, should be aligned with the organization’s vision and mission. It is equally important for the CMO to be aware of the core values, as much as any other component of the leadership team. Clarity on these will help the CMO develop an effective strategy.
    Mission/vision or values set the guidelines along which a brand is built. Alignment ensures consistency in brand behavior. You know which customer segments to target, how to approach them, what language to use, which platforms to use.
    This helps significantly in content marketing. Aligning with the mission and vision statements will help the writer choose topics relevant to the brand. Even if you want to diversify a little, you will know the range.
    Suppose you are a manufacturing company focused on digitization or automation of operations. You could come up occasionally with posts on how to clear toxic wastes from the perspective of sustainability.
    Mission/vision or objectives will direct the CMO to adopt the desired tone in writing or in other content your customers relate to. Should it be more conversational in style or should you go with a more instructional approach in engaging with the readers?Alignment with the company’s broader objectives will also help the CMO develop more effective campaigns and use relatable images and videos to connect with the target audience.
    Last, these will help the CMO assess the performance of marketing programs; and re-adjust to keep the marketing strategy flexible, relevant, and effective.
  • What lies at the heart of achievement? Team. Have you provided that to your CMO?
    Help your CMO build a strong team to give effect to plans. Again, this can happen through external hiring with the help of hiring experts like Vantegde Search, or through internal sourcing/upskilling. The aim is to have a team that is aligned with the organization’s objectives, is manned by people with high caliber and the required capability, and is quick in action.
    This will also arm the CMO to collaborate effectively with other cross-functional teams.
  • Where does your strength lie – in mass, or in agility? The right answer is agility.
    A CMO with long years of experience but an archaic approach does not stand a chance before a relatively young CMO with a flexible thinking.
    Marketing pursuits are changing at a feverish pace. Go for a CMO who is aware and willing to try out novel approaches. Disruptions in platforms as a medium of engagement and emergence of new technologies—something as transformational as Chat GPT—demand a forward-thinking individual. Opt for one who is up-to-date with the latest developments and is daring enough to explore new messaging to increase engagement and efficiency.
    “It’s all that the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date.”
    -George Bernard Shaw
    The CMO needs to be on the run always – figuratively speaking. How are trends in consumer behavior taking shape? How to improve emotional intelligence in marketing? What does market intelligence data say? How to interpret marketing analytics to draw actionable insights? Are these reflecting in execution?
    360-degree thinking promotes effortless productivity.
  • Round-the-clock vigilance. This is the other aspect of a CMO’s job.
    Connect with your CMO at all times, fast or slow growth. Your brand is at stake here. The pace of the economy should not affect its growth.
    In fact, prudent strategizing in collaboration with the CMO during downturns will ensure longevity of the brand. You can use the time to re-connect and interact with your external consumers. Every wise investment in this direction will reap rich rewards.
    Take your CMO in confidence. Strategize on the company’s growth, both long-term and short-term. What should be the market strategy for lean and good times? How to leverage a slow growth or uncertain environment to the organization’s advantage?
    Should you invest in upskilling people and improving internal structuring or functions? Consult and ideate—for, employees are the foremost brand ambassadors. What must you do to improve the internal image and branding? How to proceed? Think and devise.
    Involving the CMO in every step will lend more meat to the CMO’s role and increase its functionality. The end-result will be in the organization’s favor.

To conclude

CMOs are capability builders whose insights can be leveraged to expand the reach of functions.
Amid the ever-changing business requirements, the role of the CMO is evolving, too. Organizations need them to navigate through the complexities of the developing business environment. Like any expert in their domain, the CMO brings expertise to understand consumer trends and respond to the challenges in marketing.
The CMO, therefore, is among the most important members of the C-suite. Organizations that give the CMO their due place and don’t treat the designation as mere optics, thrive.

Participation of the CMO in strategizing should not be piecemeal, confined to marketing initiatives alone. It needs to be synthesized and leaders must work closely with them for the organization to function as a well-oiled machinery.

In the words of renowned American biologist Edwin Conklin, “Life is not found in atoms or molecules or genes as such, but in organization; not in symbiosis but in synthesis.”