Singing a Different Tune: How to Achieve Success As a Marketing Executive

The rise of the marketing executive over the past two decades is proof positive that the importance of marketing has been solidly embraced by others in the C-Suite.

But recently, there’s been a hitch in this storybook romance. Many chief marketing officers (CMOs) are cutting their tenures short, resulting in some of the briefest durations among executive leadership.

The future is anything but grim, however. Success is possible—CMOs and other marketing executives simply must understand and embrace the landscape in which they’re operating to ensure that their strategic vision takes flight.

One Job Fit Does Not Fit All

It may seem odd that experienced, battle-hardened marketers who’ve had their sights set on the C-Suite find job fit an issue once they get there.

But they do. And in surprising numbers. A February 2017 Marketing Week survey found that the average tenure of the CMO is just 4.1 years—the shortest of any C-Suite executive.

These short CMO stints are attributable to several facts. Many organizations are pushing for a more customer-centric model, and look towards the CMO to drive that change. However, without the right organizational structure in place to support this approach, marketing executives may have insufficient resources to meet organizational goals.

And while functional marketing responsibilities might be housed in multiple departments, the areas and activities that CMOs need to influence or have authority over have expanded. New responsibilities in data, customer service, distribution, and sales have joined more traditional responsibilities such as branding, product marketing, and advertising, requiring “a differentiated set of leadership competencies” from a marketing executive (according to Marketing Week).

All this means one thing: Today’s marketing executive must sing a different tune.

And company leadership—notably CEOs and other C-Suite executives—must follow suit as well. Organizational leaders must understand and embrace the cross-organizational reality of the marketing role and engage their CMO in critical issues and planning discussions.

A case in point is our recent work as Acting CMO for a hazardous waste management company. As part of this role, we identified the need for a crisis management plan to address the public, media, and customers in the event of an emergency. In collaboration with the COO and CCO, we identified a significant gap in the operational crisis plan that resulted in an overhaul and improvement of the company’s ability to respond and communicate in the event of a crisis situation.

Lynn Fulks, Upstart Group President & Acting CMO for this particular client shared, “Companies often don’t realize that marketing touches or affects every part of the organization. In this instance, the development of a Crisis Communications Plan for PR exposed some areas for improvement in operations and compliance.” Without the participation, buy-in, and support of the C-Suite, this significant operational and communications improvement wouldn’t have been possible.

Three Types of CMO Roles

Different companies define the role of the CMO differently. So, stepping into the position requires a clear understanding of what your responsibilities will be, which resources you need in order to execute strategy, and what changes you’ll need to negotiate to achieve success.

A recent Harvard Business Review article offers a helpful guide for understanding executive role fit. It defines three different types of CMO roles:

  • Enterprise wide: A CMO who sets the vision for both strategy and commercialization across the organization.
  • Strategy: A CMO who leads consumer and product growth and innovation.
  • Commercialization: A CMO who drives revenue through marketing and advertising communications.

The bottom line: given the variety of different needs and structures of organizations, when it comes to filling the CMO’s seat at the conference table, make sure you talk specifics in terms of responsibilities, authority, reporting, and deliverables.

Know Your Customer

Your goal as a marketing executive is to sell your vision. But consider this: In a 2015 McKinsey study where 87% of C-Suite respondents said it was “very or extremely” important to create a shared vision around their strategic direction, nearly 70% of those same respondents said actually achieving such a vision was not easy.

Our advice?

Take a few pages out of your well-worn customer playbook and apply them to the C-Suite. Just like you get to know your customer, you now have to get to know your high-performing executive colleagues, too. The better you know them, the more effectively you can communicate with them—and the less painful it will be to get them on board with your vision.

How to Win Respect in Today’s C-Suite

First, speak the right language. It’s no secret that CEOs, CFOs, CROs, and CTOs are numbers people. So along with touting your biggest and best ad campaign ever, you need to flaunt your biggest and best ROI, too. Proving value is key: map your team’s goals to metrics to demonstrate that your vision is working.

Second, set expectations based on resources. Do you have the access and authority you need to succeed with data and insights and demonstrate the value of your marketing efforts? If not, make your needs known and request adjustments accordingly. Take stock of the resources you currently control and those you need to add for success, either now or in the future, and make sure everyone’s on the same page about what you can and can’t deliver based on your current resources.

Finally—and we know we don’t need to say it—be collaborative and flexible. Marketing is a team sport, and consensus building is vital. You’ll need the buy-in of multiple departments and resources in order to push your vision forward.

A Brave New Marketing World

The role of marketing has never been more complicated or more important. It’s undoubtedly harder to “get it right” as a marketing executive today than it has been in the past. That’s exactly why understanding the new landscape in which you operate is essential for success.

As for the rest of the C-Suite, your CMO is a strategic and vital contributor to your company’s success. You will be surprised at the myriad of ways in which they will add value to your department and across the organization.

Need more guidance to help set your organization up for marketing success at the executive level? Get in touch for a free consultation!