Should We Get Rid of CMO's?

Maybe it's time to rethink the role of the CMO.

It’s time to reconsider the position of Chief Marketing Officer. The average life expectancy of the CMO has been reported to be twenty-three months anyway, so who wants that sentence.

The problems grow out of the fact that no one, including most of the people with the title, is exactly sure what a CMO does or should be doing. It’s difficult to achieve your objectives if you don’t know what they are.

In a recent panel discussion about the CMO role, several senior executive recruiters kicked around this problem. In some companies, the CMO is essentially the chief advertising officer, charged with managing the agency and the overall communications elements of a company’s business. They are responsible for crafting the company’s message about the products and services that have been created – generally inside out. They are around to help “sell what’s on the wagon.”

For others, the CMO is the chief sales-support officer. He or she ensures that the sales force has market analyses, presentation materials, promotional packages and trade discounts in order to do their job. Again the focus is on selling what the company makes rather than finding out what the marketplace needs.

While for some, the CMO is actually a line role, charged with managing all the marketing resources of the company – product managers, promotions managers, media people, etc. But they don’t have responsibility for the actual offering being made by the company.

I’d suggest that none of these roles capture the ideal.

I’d suggest that what companies need is a Chief Brand Officer – not a branding officer because that is still about the sizzle rather than the steak, but a Chief Brand Officer. This is the person charged with understanding just what the end users want and need from the company’s products and services. This is the person charged with ensuring that the products and services meet those wants and needs. And this is the person who is then charged with communicating to these audiences that the products and services they want are available from this company.

The underlying premise is that any brand is a promise. A promise to the consumer – not just to the intervening customers and channel partners – that a product or service will meet a particular set of wants and needs. Someone has to be responsible for fully understanding the company’s audiences and the ultimate promise that needs to be made. And then, they have to be responsible for delivering on that promise.

Someone has to be the voice of the ultimate consumer within the company. It is based on the belief that the end user’s vote is the only one that matters in the long run.

Someone has to stand up against the forces of cost savings and efficiency who don’t think a few pennies off the cost of goods will really make a difference, against the production planner that misses deliveries by just a few percent each and every month, against a customer service system that doesn’t believe that additional training will pay for itself.

Everyday we see more and more companies that say they want to be market driven, so they go out and hire classically trained marketing executives to get them there. But in the end, too many of the key decisions about the brand promise and delivery of that promise are outside of the control of the marketing executives hired.

There are still too many companies who put P&L responsibility in the hands of the sales executive who believes that talking to the “customer” is the right way to understand what the market wants. And it’s so much cheaper than all that research. How many buyers or purchasing agents do you know who research the needs of their end users for any of the items they buy?

Still other companies continue to drive their product development out of their research labs with too little input from the ultimate users. Then the companies wonder why they have a pile of inventory at the end of the year.

If you want a chief advertising officer, fine. Declare that. Just understand that doing great advertising for a misaligned product or service is still the fastest way to kill a business.

If you want a sales support organization, that’s fine, but don’t pretend that it’s a marketing department. No self-respecting marketer would take or keep that job.

To get the greatest impact out of a C-level role in the marketing discipline, companies need to decide if they want to truly be market driven. Are the other players in the C-suite ready to give up the control they have had over key elements of the business? Ultimate companies need to put the organization in place to own the consumer, own the product and own the message. It’s a hub of the wheel organization and it will take a real commitment on the part of the CEO and the entire management team to make it work.

Otherwise, all you have is a nameplate that says CMO and changes every couple of years.