June 11, 2018

CMOs Are the Most Versatile (Yet Underappreciated) C-Suite Executives

Long Live the QueenMy recent experience at the Global Retail Marketing Association (GRMA) C-Suite Executive Leadership Forum was both humbling and inspiring — inspiring because I spent a lot of time with the most stretched C-suite executives in today’s business world: CMOs. And yet I found the CMOs at the forum to be unfailingly passionate, committed, confident and, perhaps most important of all, adaptable. I was humbled by their optimism in the face of all the responsibilities that they have to juggle each day.

I was also humbled in the presence of the diverse slate of world-class speakers GRMA had arranged. They included Alison Levine, team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov (each of whom would probably make a good CMO).

A masterful presentation
If there was one moment that crystallized my GRMA experience, it was Kasparov’s presentation, “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.” That topic was right in PebblePost’s wheelhouse. After all, the founding principle of Programmatic Direct Mail® was “to transform real-time online interest and intent into dynamically rendered, personalized direct mail.” We get the yin and yang of successful marketing in the 21st century. It’s about using sophisticated analytics to reach your customers on a human level.

Good CMOs understand this balance between art and science. “Today’s customer-centric CMO role requires the right balance of left as well as right brain skills and, very importantly, a differentiated set of leadership competencies,” Caren Fleit, senior client partner and leader of Korn Ferry’s Marketing Centre of Expertise, said in a recent Marketing Week article.

Consider a CMO’s job description. They have to position the company with consumers. They have to position the CEO and the company with Wall Street. They’re the ones who typically execute consumer research to find out what’s on the consumer’s mind. Then they have to interpret the data, make sense of it and then take action on it. And they’re accountable for a laundry list that includes customer satisfaction, social presence, creative direction, media selection, brand perception and even revenue attainment. Every other C-suite role is far more linear in comparison.

Playing by different rules
Kasparov’s remarks also got me doing some deep thinking about the parallels between chess and the business world. On a chessboard, the CMO would be the queen. Contrary to what many people outside the world of chess believe, it is the queen — not the king — that is the game’s most versatile, powerful piece. The queen is the only piece that can move any number of squares in any direction — horizontally, vertically or diagonally. The queen’s role is so vital, in fact, that many world-class chess players will simply concede in tournament play if they lose their queen.

Unfortunately, the corporate board isn’t like a chessboard. In the real world, the CMO is sometimes treated as a political pawn instead of a queen. As that same Marketing Week article cited above says, CMOs have the shortest average tenure in the C-suite at just 4.1 years.

Why? “In some cases,” Fleit notes, “short tenure can be attributed to the organization not being well-aligned behind the change that the CMO is tasked with leading.”

In other words, CMOs are hired for their vision but too often that vision is unrealized because of corporate inertia. If only the rules of marketing were as transparent and inviolable as the rules of chess, CMOs would consistently get the recognition, power, respect and tenure that they deserve. I’m grateful for the time and opportunity to step inside the world of the CMO. Long live the Queen!

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