Why CMOs are disappointing

January 10, 2023

Over the last five years there’s been a massive expansion in the roles and responsibilities handed to CMOs. Many, especially those in Small & Medium sized enterprises, have job descriptions that are utterly impossible for any single individual to deliver. They are now frequently expected to blend these requirements.

Strategic brand marketing competence. This demands a full grasp of the business, the competitive set, all the intricate levers available for marketers like distribution/channel/pricing and hundreds more, despite most teaching on this topic being hopelessly out of date. It's also desirable to have the ability to pitch a compelling case for any strategic changes to the board and any other stakeholders.
Performance marketing and analytics skills. Requiring a sound grasp of maths, research methodologies, data science, familiarity with organic and paid search, hands-on experience with a host of social listening, marketing automation, CRM tools and a plethora of analytics platforms.
Skill in Producing ‘Stuff’. Including content and collateral production, copywriting, PowerPointing, interviewing, shooting still photography/video, retouching, editing, podcasting, elementary coding HTML/JS etc., web and landing page management, social management i.e. posting/commenting trend monitoring and more. (Often without recourse to agencies).

Nobody has the time or competence to deliver in all these areas but that doesn't stop them being demanded. Which is why CMOs are often being set up to fail.

Marketing strategy is half the business

Many early stage business leaders don’t rate (or like) strategic marketers. Often this is because all the experienced ones are pretty punchy and won’t roll up their sleeves to double as a lighting cameraman at the company offsite. Some CEOs tell me things like “she wanted to mess with our product” or  “he could only write positioning papers but we needed him to write landing pages”. (Both verbatims).

Today, marketing impacts everything a business does

A well defined purpose and unified set of values are more important than many product features. Great brands are so precisely defined, that products, services and the business plan flow seamlessly from these foundations. 

Smart strategists aren’t often found in businesses under £500m as they’re such an expensive fixed cost. Smaller companies should buy in some stellar strategic advice and make sure they follow it. In a SME or a start up, it doesn't have to come from a full time hire as the bulk of strategy tends to be a front-loaded activity that then needs to be fully deployed and left alone to ‘settle’ for a couple of years. Even in today's fast changing times, strategy should remain solid with only tiny adjustments over time. 

Performance marketing was built for scaling startups

Advocates of performance marketing tend not to focus on generational brand loyalty or retention. Accepted wisdom is to create masses of roughly aligned messages and to test everything until something catches fire. This doesn't work so well in a classical enduring brand.

You can’t irritate someone into loving you

Long term success is built from the pursuit of customer satisfaction, relentless attention to product/service details, and forensic scrutiny of customer journeys and intentions. Understand what customers are trying to get done and then help them do it. Effusive social posts about the merits of a new office coffee machine do nothing but drive society closer to mental meltdown. 

Performance should be measured by clarity of brand purpose and adherence to the brand proposition in every element of communication. (What you stand for goes way beyond the product/service. It should be reflected in how you sell, deliver support, create packaging, build staff comp models - just everything).

Less can be more

The production of ‘stuff’ should be done by people who have the time and talent to do it well. That can be in-house but never in haste. Don’t ask the impossible and wonder why it turned out to be pants. Great brands can last for centuries and content that supports their story will still resonate in perpetuity. Invest in quality content that will LAST. Forget the campaign, remember the brand. Create enduring brand assets and sweat them hard.

Give the beleaguered CMO a better chance

Boards need to explode the oversimplifying 3 Letter Acronym - CMO. They need to determine the skills that the businesses needs and judiciously seek out and deploy the best resources to deliver success. They must stop burdening one individual with too much responsibility and too little support.

If you're a marketer, could you please complete this brief survey exploring the demands placed on modern marketers. We'll share the results as soon as they're available.

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