What Happened to Marketing? The Role of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

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Marketing has a bad reputation. Comments include – “It gets us to buy things we don’t need. It makes us feel bad about ourselves and it changes the course of elections.” I agree that those are all bad results from marketing. When marketing is used to manipulate people to do things that are not in their best interest, it is bad. Often this is because the CMO is focused on one outcome. More often, there is not a CMO, and sales, product, or operations are responsible. To lessen bad outcomes, we need to get marketing back on the right path. A path that leads to great outcomes for the organization, customers, and society.
When we look at the fundamentals of marketing, we see it as a core component of a successful organization. Marketing is the team that foresees the future, drives new markets, pushes for products/services that are needed, and more. Truly visionary CEOs and other leaders understand the fundamental importance of marketing.
The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Overall, the CMO plays a critical role in helping the company achieve its business objectives by driving customer engagement, brand awareness, and revenue growth through effective marketing strategies.
Seems logical. The company defines its objectives and the CMO puts a plan together and drives the above list using effective marketing tools such as social, email, events, articles, campaigns, etc. Since COVID, much of this has fallen under Digital Marketing.
Unfortunately, this definition is backward. Marketing should be the eyes and ears of an organization. The CMO must be extremely well-versed in business strategy and company strengths, deeply involved in the organization’s industry, and always forward-thinking. The CMO drives the company forward. Marketing shares the organization’s vision, story, and inspiration. They spend as much time talking to customers as prospects. The CMO is critical in driving business objectives.
Marketing + Product = Success
Steve Jobs was a marketing genius. We often ignore a major component of his wisdom:
Steve’s ‘secret’ was to control the product and the marketing, not just the marketing.”
What that means for CMOs is that you must be a major contributor to the product direction. That is what makes you a CMO, not your digital marketing strategy. You cannot decouple these two components. I knew I was doing my job, for example, when the head of engineering told me that my job was to simply “put the stamps on the envelopes” What he meant was “I don’t want to do what is needed so stop asking.” When he built buggy and unusable products, marketing took the hit. He would say “It was never designed to do that.” As the CMO, my job was to push him. “What did you build it for?” (silence). That product was discontinued.
Fighting for what is needed is difficult, ugly, and stressful. The CEO of this company would leverage marketing to push development for new products and features. Every executive meeting was a battle. I fought for company growth and customer success. That is the CMO’s role. You cannot do that role if you are not at the executive table, if you don’t understand the product(s), or if you don’t passionately care about your customers’ success.
When I left the company, the head of engineering danced down the hallway gleefully saying he could now control the messaging. The company, employees, partners, distributors, and clients suffer when this happens.
The CMO is a unique position. It must absorb ideas, messages, and trends from all directions internally and externally. You deeply understand your competition from products to messaging. You work closely with product management, support, training, sales, operations, finance, IT, HR, and the CEO. You must hold your own when complex issues arise. No other position (except the CEO) requires such a deep understanding of issues.
Marketing is NOT Sales
Great sales teams are amazing. My job was to make sure that when they met with a prospect, they did not have to explain the company, its value, or its offerings. Sales’ job is to customize the company’s product offering into a very focused offering for that prospect. They communicate and negotiate critical items such as value, cost, ROI, architecture, budgets, release cycles, etc. that are important for that client’s unique situation. Sales is focused on the deal which by its nature is short-term. They must. Marketing is focused on keeping customers informed and knowledgeable, supporting sales while finding the next leads and prospects. Combining these two teams is a disaster.
The Successful CMO
If an organization does not have a CMO that is a core member of the executive team, if the CMO does not report directly to the CEO, or if the CMO does not know deeply what the organization does, run away quickly.
Organizations with truly executive CMOs have a competitive advantage. CMO discussions tend to focus on ways CMO can do their job such as data-driven, metrics, ROI, etc. These are tools that often are used incorrectly. For example, the CMO of Autodesk decided to stop going to tradeshows (briefly) because the cost per lead was too high. It was great for my organization while it lasted! A great CMO has many tools. There are hundreds of start-ups building the next greatest marketing platform. Smart people are saying marketing will be replaced by AI but they are assuming that marketing is tactical… putting a stamp on the envelope. AI is another tool that a smart CMO uses.
There is so much more to say about the CMO role in subsequent posts. For example, their importance to
● employee satisfaction (hint: team with HR/People department),
● customer satisfaction (hint: team with support, training, and services),
● successful partners (hint: partners need great products and marketing),
● the CIO (hint: data mining and analysis),
● the CFO (hint: budgeting and forecasting)
● products (hint: requirements, pricing, and launch)
● operations (hint: product delivery, purchasing to brand, communications)
Just remember, when everyone is saying and doing the same thing, it is time to rethink your strategy. Then you will have a competitive advantage!

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