What Keeps The Chief Marketing Officer Awake At Night? – Part 1

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There is no doubt that the current role of the Chief Marketing Officer is fundamentally changing.

What was once considered to be one of the most interesting and creative positions within the corporate environment, has now become one of the most contentious job titles any business professional could have (if they can even hold on to it). It’s hard not to imagine how challenging of a position this can be, in a world where the marketing landscape has shifted so fundamentally in the past decade. It’s not just about how technology, the Internet and social media have changed the way that brands connect to consumers, and how consumers connect to brands (and to one another). It runs much deeper than that. It runs much deeper than financial meltdowns, funky things out of Wall Street, a mortgage crisis, globalization, and more. It wouldn’t be brash to say, that there are those who feel that there is no longer even a need for a Chief Marketing Officer within an organization. Don’t believe me? Google it.

Heresy you say?

There are five core foundational reasons why the Chief Marketing Officer’s role within the organization is in such a fragile state. Over the next few months, we will deconstruct the following five areas that the Chief Marketing Officer must pay increased attention to, in order to figure out what the next decade of marketing will look like for businesses.

The five areas that Chief Marketing Officers need to pay attention to:

  1. The corporate function.
  2. Data and information.
  3. IT and technology.
  4. Media and communications.
  5. Talent and recruiting.

Let’s start with the corporate function…

Peter Drucker once famously wrote that a company only has two key functions: marketing and innovation, and that all other functions within the organization should support this. It feels like nothing could be closer to the truth in this technologically advanced and sophisticated day and age, and yet it feels like the Chief Marketing Officer’s stock within that mandate continues to plummet. If you take a close look at some of the world’s most respected brands, the Chief Marketing Officers are not much more than Chief Advertising Officers. If we are going to go back to the fundamentals of what marketing is – as a function of business – it’s hard not to think of the classic Four Ps of Marketing that we all learned about in college: product, price, promotion and place. Think deeply about just how much the marketing department truly affects these four areas of business. It’s quite obvious that the “promotion” piece has become the bread and butter of the marketing department. Most marketing departments act, fundamentally, as brand stewards and have little insight and input into what the product or service actually is, and how it better serves customers at large. It feels like the true marketing work is actually being done by the COO, the CFO, and the R&D department. Marketing is usually brought in way after the fact, to figure out how to best polish the look and feel of the product or service, and make it look sexy for the customers. At best, the marketers are also responsible for what happens after the product is purchased. Congratulations, these marketers are linked to customer service, and maybe get a chance to actually own the Twitter feed.

What is marketing?

Volumes of books, articles and blog posts have been written by some of the smartest business minds out there, attempting to define what marketing is? You could ask the top ten marketers in the world to define what marketing is, and you would get a different answer from each professional… and there is a possibility that you might even get a different answer from the same individual on different occasions. A definition that we can all wrap our arms around isn’t going to happen in this column. What we do know is that marketers might get a much higher level of credibility, if they, themselves, could bring some clarity and definition to the practice. If marketers can’t easily define what the role and function is within the organization, how can we expect the CEO to give us the keys to the car? Simply put: most people don’t know what marketing is anymore. If marketers want to improve their position within the corporate organization, a clear definition of what, exactly, marketing is would be a prime place to start.

It’s a numbers game.

Our world is filled with people who are financially illiterate. Just look at the credit card debt crisis in North America. You would think that after decades of advertising and communications from banks and investment advisors to help people better manage their money, that things would be better. You would be wrong. Recent studies suggest that financial literacy is at an all-time low. Some of the most telling articles on the topic start off by saying that the vast majority of Americans lack basic money skills. Why should we be surprised that marketers are any different? For the Chief Marketing Officer to regain their credibility within the organization, there is a dire need for them to become much more financially literate. Marketing needs to be directly linked to both sales and the overall corporate performance in terms of the P&L. Associate Professor and Distinguished Professor of Marketing, Kenneth Wong, from Queen’s School of Business often says that no marketing should be done unless it "adds to the economic value of the brand." Business is a numbers game and marketers – who should be nothing short of rabid over the math – have somehow relegated themselves to the more touchy-feely parts of the business. It’s time to break out the abacus and find a balance between the creativity and the numbers. Chief Marketing Officers will struggle desperately through the data and information phase, if they can’t wrap their heads around the foundational numbers first.

It’s a global jungle.

Why should marketing be any different? The mass globalization of corporate affairs has struck at the heart of marketing as well. There has been global consolidation of marketing and communication services from most of the major brands, and we have even seen mass consolidation from the advertising agency networks themselves (think about the Publicis and Omnicom mega-merger). On the brand side, we’ve seen the purchasing of marketing and communication services become that much more of a procurement-driven process than anything else. If you look towards the industry at large, there seems to be more brands moving towards agency partners that are completely integrated. An agency that is able to provide both traditional mass advertising services along with digital expertise, coupled with direct marketing, experiential marketing, promotional marketing, partnership marketing and beyond. While brands seek out these “pink unicorns,” and the large advertising agency networks continue to PR that their networked agencies can provide such seamless integration, we have yet to see an integrated shop that is unified and integrated. What this has led to is the commoditization of marketing. With every large agency claiming that efficiencies can only be achieved through this model. A desire to have a truly integrated agency – in a world of deep personalization with media fragmentation across a myriad of platforms, channels and technologies – is more myth than reality. This idea that one agency of record to rule them all can beat out specialists – each with their own deep, rich and knowledgeable pool of experts and experience – has yet to be proven. At the corporate level, the Chief Marketing Officer is going to have to get a lot more knowledgeable about how to build “teams of record” rather than an “agency of record” relationship. Creating alignment with multiple agency partners (across multiple departments) in a bid to ensure that “best in class” isn’t just something that will score them some points in marketing jargon bingo is another prime directive.

Once the corporate function of marketing is secured, the Chief Marketing Officer can get down to the real work of data and information.

In the next post (in about two week’s time), we’ll look at how the Chief Marketing Officer must straddle between the future promise of big data, while grappling with the reality that they’re not doing nearly enough with the reams of data and information that they currently have. Along with that, we’ll dig deeper in the paradox of privacy and personalization, and how the link between data management and creative services must evolve, as our world begins to look more and more like George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

As always, please feel free to add your perspective below…


  1. Mitch,
    Great post, really fun to read. I’m excited for the rest of the series — can’t wait two weeks though!
    You provoked many thoughts but I’ll pluck one just for fun. 
    I’ve been watching and playing in the emerging “Marketing Cloud” ecosystem for some time now. With the latest jousting between Adobe and Salesforce — and maybe Oracle and IBM… I’ve been feeling very similarly to how you’ve articulated the unproven nature of the agency roll-up propaganda. I believe the Marketing Cloud roll-up is wishful thinking at best and fatally flawed at worst. 
    The IT roll-up made sense at one point, it was smart and safe and created many many jobs and rich execs on both sides of the brand/vendor divide. But I believe modern marketing is fundamentally different, and as you shared, fragmented. Looking to Salesforce.com for your entire marketing “stack” is just crazy in my opinion. Driven by consumers and the platforms they/we love, there are so many niche vendors and tech (Lumascapes are dizzying and obsolete the minute they’re posted to SlideShare) and the tremendous complexities of every channel — add “stream” now to search, email and display, and that’s just digital — a roll-up that is expert enough, best-of-breed enough and on the front edge of every change Facebook and Twitter make to their APIs is just impossible, or at least unlikely.
    I think your point about marketing leaders needing to become more knowledgable about building relationships with and between “teams of record” is exactly right and applies to vendors as well as agencies. Having spent many years on the brand side at adidas and then a few on the agency side leading digital for the MillerCoors business, I fully understand why Marketing execs look to agencies and vendors to do just about everything – especially in digital. It’s just too dynamic and complicated. 
    Do you agree or am I misguided? Am I getting ahead of you — will this will be revealed in future posts?
    Regardless, I love this stuff, keep-up the great great work! : )
    Marko Z Muellner
    VP Marketing | ShopIgniter

  2. Mitch,
    Great post. I’d just like to make a few comments about AOR’s vs TOR’s. I agree that it’s getting increasingly difficult – if not impossible for one agency to handle all the needs of a large client in this fragmented world. That said I haven’t seen proper implementation of an alternative yet either.
    Having worked for both large multinational agencies and boutiques, I’ve seen the multi-agency relationship work in one of two ways.
    The first scenario is a client bringing in someone new with a few bright ideas to “shake things up” at their main agency. The ideas may be good, but the new agency has no knowledge of the client’s long-term strategy, existing infrastructure, internal politics, etc. The main agency deals with the interloper through passive resistance – providing help only when asked (often repeatedly), not pointing out obvious pitfalls during the process and undermining the newcomer whenever possible in a variety of ways. The result is the initiative achieves mediocre results at best and the client’s business is not moved forward.
    The second scenario is where a client establishes a roster of top-performing agencies and then sits back and waits for the magic to happen. The resulting “magic” is usually infighting between the agencies and a mixture of tactics and ideas that can’t be combined into a coherent go-forward strategy.
    Agencies need to develop the maturity to realize that their role as AOR is to move the clients’ businesses forward and to accept that they can’t do everything for their clients anymore in this fragmented world. Maybe they could even be proactive once in a while and bring new partners to the table with new ideas. Clients need to assume control over their agency relationships and play an active role in making things work between the partners. Until then they will continue to get the agencies they deserve, and vice versa.

  3. Couldn’t agree more regarding how too many marketers (in general not specifically CMOs) lack financial literacy.
    I think it’s an issue that starts on the ground floor and then works its way up as “marketers” are promoted. Young creatives develop their creative instincts and immerse themselves in culture – they don’t instinctively start learning about the finer points of the P&L. It really does take a polymath to bring together everything that’s needed for the role.

  4. Quite right and thank you. I find often in clients the thinking that marketing is mainly advertising and promotion focused. Perhaps when information was scarce, good marketing could trump product and service, but no longer. The marcom function is still critical but if you don’t get the product right who cares? Who defines the customer and the offer? Isn’t marketing at that table and not just to bat clean up for whatever?Going to market is a complete look.

  5. Ben, and Mitch,
    Really good thought provoking article. For me, it highlights how dangerous narrow specialisation can be, as one moves up the business ladder. Specialists are valuable, of course, but we need more than just specialists.
    It’s not just marketers who lack the necessary financial and business acumen to support business, but they certainly are one group. From our experience, it’s not so much the finer points of the financial statements, but getting a grasp of how the money side of business works (profit, cashflow, budgets, financial decisions, and how finance departments ‘think’ etc). Part of the problem is finance people and amalysts, who have as much jargon as marketers – and aren’t always great communicators outside their speciality.
    We don’t think it’s beyond anyone’s capacity to get the basic understanding of business finance. Don’t need to be a polymath, just interested!

  6. It’s not that complicated. Here’s how I look at it:
    Marketing is the deliberate communication of value, intended to influence purchasing decisions. It isn’t something you conjure up and pin on, it’s something that’s deep in the DNA of the product itself.
    The main question on the CMO’s mind should be, I think- what’s good about our product, and how do we communicate that more effectively to the people who need to hear it?

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