CMOs and the Test of Time

We at Engine90 are all about speed and efficiency of impact. And we’re fond of saying that when you’re navigating on the frontlines of business, successful strategy and operational alignment requires a constant infusion of information, insight and action. However, all too often, by the time management teams collectively sense an opportunity, there’s rarely enough time left to pull the organizational levers required to capitalize on it.

This pattern of missed opportunities is perhaps most pronounced (or certainly most observable) among CMOs. A group standing headfirst in-front of the fire hose of trying to integrate big data, a nearly infinitely expanding set of communication channels and the complex realities of multi-channel distribution. Successfully conceiving, deploying and optimizing integrated marketing programs, in a replicable and scalable manner, requires an unprecedented depth of understanding and foresight.

Unfortunately the turnover of top CMO jobs has also been somewhat relentless. Leaving too few CMOs adequately equipped with the depth of understanding and internal relationships required to deftly position marketing arsenals for maximum effect. This is especially true in an era in which so many of the most cutting edge marketing tools require multiple test/learn/optimize cycles before hitting the ROI sweet spot.

Fortunately, recent data suggests that CMOs are keeping their jobs longer than any time in recent history. This is outstanding news for CMOs, of course. But it’s also great news for the businesses and brands they represent, for a number of critical reasons:

  • The breadth and depth of relevancy of the brands represented, since longer CMO tenure ideally translates into the ability to expand the brand experience to impact more than just the advertising, but also the product and service experience, social media interactions, etc. across all touch-points. Accomplishing this breadth of brand relevancy requires the CMO being able to develop and coordinate relationships across functions within their organizations, and that simply takes time.
  • The distinctiveness of the brand experiences represented, since pushing a brand to be different requires courage, and courage can only come from being confident that you won’t be forced out of your job by the first risky bet that doesn’t go exactly as planned.
  • The consistency of the brands they represent, since strong brand relationships require consistent, methodical stewardship over time….this can only be accomplished by CMOs who have been in their jobs for more than a few years.

According to global executive search and leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart, as recently as 2004 the average CMO tenure was a measly 23.6 months — a ridiculously short amount of time when you consider that it takes several months for a new marketing executive to get his or her arms completely around an organization (especially if it’s a Fortune 1000 company). But since Spencer Stuart’s first CMO tenure study 11 years ago, the average longevity of a US CMO has nearly doubled.

As a community, CMOs have worked hard over the years to prove their worth to their CEOs, and other executives who have enjoyed a seat at the chief executive’s staff meetings. Among other reasons, the recent success of CMOs parallels advancements in marketing technology and how it’s used. For example, Tom Seclow of Spencer Stuart’s Marketing Office Practice says that because CMOs are leveraging digital and analytics like never before, they are creating more value for their organizations.

“The ability to create measurably successful marketing initiatives has given CMOs credibility across the organization,” he says. “CMOs are now clearly the advocate for the customer inside the company.”

In addition, the study points to evidence that more CMOs are taken on broader responsibility within their companies – social media, ecommerce, mobile etc. — as CEOs gain more confidence in their marketers to lead “dramatic change.”

CMOs in certain industries — including auto, restaurant and retail – are still playing catch up when it comes to the average tenure of their peers working in the tech, financial services and industrial sectors. But generally, the evolution of the CMO position has finally reached the stage where its value is being measured across a body of work and the value it delivers to the entire organization. This means CMOs increasingly have a shot at actually taking control of that fire hose of options to surgically act on big data insights, create new opportunities and accelerate growth.



Ted Nelson