It’s time for CMOs to talk business6 min read

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I recently celebrated my four-year anniversary as Chief Marketing Officer at the global digital consultancy Publicis Sapient.  According to many surveys, this milestone means I’m on borrowed time – and have been for some time.  Median tenure for CMOs at America’s 100 most advertised brands is just 25.5 months — the lowest since 2009, and far below the 80-month tenure for CEOs. 

While some question whether these statistics paint the real or full story, these numbers should serve as motivation for CMOs to make some long-needed changes and take charge of their rapidly evolving role.

The reasons that CMOs have short tenures have been explored in depth in recent years and I don’t want to belabor the point.  In my view, most CMOs don’t embrace a business mindset.  They need to act as “business leaders” first and “chief marketers” second.  

Serve the clients, not the organization

An important step for CMOs today is to make sure expectations align with what the job entails. The marketing role is not designed to support but to lead.  Too often organizations misunderstand marketing’s responsibilities.  The scope of the CMO position shouldn’t be limited mostly to marketing communications, such as advertising, PR and social media.  Rather, CMOs need to educate internal stakeholders, especially the CEO, on the role marketing can play in leading business strategy. 

Reframing the CMO role from “marketing” to “business” means taking accountability and ownership of driving the business rather than supporting it.  CMOs build the business — they don’t just market it.  Working collaboratively across the enterprise, marketers influence decision making and business strategy by merging clients’ insights with data and market expertise to fuel growth.   

This education about the CMO role is important in managing expectations that marketing can solve deep organizational challenges.  Too often, CMOs are expected to quickly improve various aspects of the business, from sales to communications, even though in many cases these issues require systemic organizational and cultural change outside the scope of marketing. Or, as sometimes happens, the CMO does not have the mandate to actually oversee the processes, like sales or solutions, that may be used to determine his or her ultimate success.  When CMOs join organizations with big aspirations and goals, the company culture needs to allow for their ambitions to flourish so that they’re not blamed for poor company performance.  

Ideally, reframing the role should start at the job interview or recruitment process, with prospective CMOs ensuring that their job descriptions include how their impact will be measured.  This underscores the importance of setting expectations from the outset.  It’s often missing from job descriptions, leading to a lack of clarity for how to measure a CMO’s performance.  For example, a seminal Harvard Business Review study found that only 22% of CMO job descriptions include such metrics.  CMOs should incorporate this language, request specific metrics during performance reviews and begin to forge a new and clearer path.

Read next: Only 11% of CMOs say they have achieved digital transformation goals

Market your marketing — with data

Organizations often see marketing as a cost center rather than as an engine of growth. This misconception results in CMOs not having the authority to drive business decisions.  For example, one study found that only 5.5% of 600 surveyed executives said it was the CMO who approved investments in digital engagement technologies in their organizations.  In more than 25% of cases, it was the CEO, CFO or CTO.  It defies logic that the CMO, who is tasked with understanding the market, is not overseeing spending decisions on technology to reach customers.

CMOs can change this way of thinking by showing data and insights for how marketing directly drives business.  Successful marketing organizations build data analytics teams to ensure that they’re not only using data to inform marketing decisions, but also tracking and collecting data on outcomes and results.  It’s critical to have a firm numerically based understanding for how marketing expenditure and activities affect the company’s bottom line. The data allows marketers to speak the language of the CEO and demonstrate pipeline, revenue and impact on the company.  Making this shift is essential as a recent Boathouse study found that 58% of CEOs believe that CMOs speak their own language versus the language of the business.  

Drive growth around the three “Rs”

Marketing’s purpose is to drive growth around what I call the three “Rs:”

  • Reputation: growth for the brand.
  • Relationships: growth for clients.
  • Revenue: growth for the business.

Ideally, CMOs can take market data and use it not just to market current products and services more efficiently, but to inform and inspire the development of new ones.  Data can also be used to track the buyer journey, which is helpful not just to make sure products reach potential customers, but to identify new opportunities. This can turn CMOs into growth drivers. In addition, in this capacity CMOs can bring an innovative mindset, and set an agenda for new products and new opportunities, all rooted in data and their expert knowledge of the market.  

Collecting and analyzing data also makes marketing invaluable to other parts of the enterprise, including sales and product development.  It’s a way for the CMO to further align and work more closely with other top executives, including not just the CEO and CFO, but also the CTO, CISO and Chief Purpose Officer — three roles that are growing in impact across businesses. 

These steps will go a long way toward increasing trust in CMOs, which is desperately needed. Seventy percent of CEOs in the Boathouse study said their CMOs think foremost about themselves and would do whatever it takes to protect themselves rather than their CEO.  In addition to gaining more trust, by adopting a business mindset and embracing data, the CMO can be at the forefront of an organization’s growth — and digital transformation.


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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Theresa Barreira is CMO at Publicis Sapient. She was named one of the Top 25 Women Leaders in IT Services of 2020 by the IT Services Report, and a 2019 recipient of the Silver Stevie Award for Female Executive of the Year.

She is a proud Hispanic and native of Portugal who is focused on advancing DE&I in leadership and at all levels of the workplace. She’s lived and worked in the US, Canada, and Europe, and spent most of her career leading teams and companies through transformation, launching new brands or lines of business, and cultivating a culture of experimentation and learning.

She is former CMO of Deloitte Consulting and has held leadership positions at IBM and Accenture.

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