The CEO as CMO Supporter

Much has been written about the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) needing to be the hands-on chief of every function in a company, especially being the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), in addition to some roles not on the org chart (Chief Innovator, Chief Evangelist, etc.).   This is a nice thought, but does it make sense in real life?  (Please note: I am not talking about very small companies where the CEO/Owner does have to wear many hats out of necessity.)

CMOs bring a unique knowledge base and skill set to the job.  This knowledge should include a thorough understanding of branding, positioning, pricing, communications, competition, research, the product/service being offered, etc.  Ideally, they also bring the experience of having achieved marketing goals through successful application of these often-complex concepts.

Does it make sense for CEOs to have these skills and experiences?  Probably not, unless they come from a marketing background.  And if they are this enmeshed in the marketing detail, shouldn’t they be as involved in the detail of finance, information systems, operations/production, human resources, etc.?  Of course not.  The CEO’s role is to set the course, steer the ship and make sure everyone is doing their jobs.  It is not to do every job required to get the ship to its destination.

So, if the CEO is not the CMO, what can he or she do to help the CMO succeed?

Understand Marketing – The CEO should have a conceptual understanding of marketing in terms of how it can help the company reach its goals.  In a survey I conducted with more than 150 marketing and sales executives, I asked about the major reasons for ineffective branding and gave eight options to select from.  I also allowed participants to write in their own answers if their reasons were not on the list.  Five participants did this and two of the answers related to senior management being an obstacle.  If you have conducted surveys, you know that people have to feel pretty strongly about something to provide write-in responses.

Understand the Difference between Marketing and Sales – For most CEOs revenue growth is the name of the game.  But the CEO needs to understand the difference between marketing and sales in revenue growth.   Marketing is responsible for communicating with the universe of potential buyers in a target market to generate interest.  Sales is responsible for working with an individual prospect to understand the prospect’s needs and how the company’s products/services can meet the prospect’s needs.

Set Clear Expectations and Supply Resources – Spencer Stuart, the executive search firm, says the average tenure for CMOs was 42 months in 2010.  Although this was a dramatic improvement from the 24-35 month average tenure in the prior six years, these numbers suggest that reasonable expectations are not being set and/or CMOs are not getting the resources needed to meet those expectations.  Either way, CMO turnover is expensive.  Consider the cost of recruitment, time spent getting a new CMO up to speed, and the lost opportunities while the CMO seat is vacant.

Support the Brand – The CEO should be a lead advocate for the brand, always being on point in communicating the brand internally and externally.  This consistency will demonstrate to everyone in the company that the brand is important.  So you might say the CEO’s role is Chief Cheerleader when it comes to the brand.  I have been fortunate throughout my career in companies and as a consultant that the CEOs I have worked with have supported the brand.  This could be a cause–effect relationship: They understood the value of a strong brand and hired marketing experts to build the brand.  It made sense for them to be supportive.

The CEO plays a critical role in understanding the CMO’s job and supporting marketing efforts.  The relatively short average tenure of CMOs, while improving, suggests chief executives should consider how they might further support their chief marketers to improve the bottom line.

© 2011-2017 Bill Fellows, Top-of-Mind Branding All Rights Reserved