A PARADOX exists in becoming a marketing leader: the more senior you get, the less your time is spent actually doing pure marketing.
The functional skills and experiences that propel you to the top are not necessarily the ones that will help you succeed when you get there.
The marketing director of a top global business recently estimated that as much as 80% of his time is spent working with people outside the marketing function. Another senior marketer we spoke to argued: “In the role of CMO, you have one central challenge. Ultimately, the only way for marketing as a function to succeed is to make sure the whole company works as a marketing organisation. You have to shape the whole organisation so that it focuses on the consumer and you have to ensure that the business model is integrated with how you build your brands.”
Easy to say! But achieving this in practice is no mean feat. It demands exceptional leadership skills to develop a clear vision, engage colleagues in breaking down organisational silos and establish new ways of working, decision-making and measurement. Importantly, marketing leaders must build the capabilities needed for the organisation to change in practice, deliver better customer value and drive brand and business growth.
The relatively short tenure of many marketing directors doesn’t help since significant changes take time to embed. Resistance to change can also be heightened when top marketers come from outside the company, without in-depth knowledge of its industry, business operations and culture.
Another dimension to the challenge is that while the core functional marketing activities remain as critical as ever to business performance, CMOs have huge demands on their time and far less scope to focus personally on this aspect of their role.
Generating customer insight, driving innovation and building brands with brilliant communication are central to business and brand success and provide the foundation for marketing’s influence within the organisation. The dilemma for top marketers, given that they have to rely on their team to perform these tasks, is this: how can they best build the marketing capabilities of their people and teams and equip them with the core marketing skills needed to deliver better customer value in a rapidly changing competitive landscape?
Headcount reductions within marketing departments mean fewer resources to coach people and enable shadowing on the job. A growing tendency towards functional specialisation also means marketers struggle to build up the ‘big picture’ of the way marketing works as a whole. Add to this massive pressure to deliver short-term results, and it’s not surprising that marketing functions often feel ill-equipped to deal with the challenges they face.
Delivering through Others
To succeed, a CMO must build the leadership skills needed to deliver through others – within their function, across the organisation and with the external agencies and suppliers so pivotal to their success. Their impact will depend on their ability to inspire, engage, coach and influence others to deliver tangible and rapid results for the business.
But instead of feeling intimidated by this challenge, their very expertise as marketers can serve them well. We see securing changes in people’s behaviour within an organisation as similar to the task of securing changes in the behaviour of customers. We believe CMOs should leverage the principles and practices of marketing as much internally as externally.
Applying marketing principles
Great marketing leaders start with a deep understanding of core business objectives. They find ways to set an inspiring brand vision and express it internally to provide motivation and purpose for everyone in the organisation, and for customers.
How else do they engage others? They segment the key internal communities and seek insight into the needs and motivations of stakeholders. They recruit influential advocates by explaining the benefits of change in ways that relate to the commercial agenda of the business.
And they build marketing capabilities, not just in the marketing department, but in all functions where people contribute to the delivery of the customer experience.
Just as consumer marketing campaigns that rely solely on TV ads belong to the past, so too do marketing learning programmes that focus solely on traditional training activities. A strategic approach will change how people and teams work in practice, using an innovative blend of face-to-face, online and social channels that connects closely with people’s on-the-job work activities.
CMOs should leverage the principles of marketing as much internally as externally
Just as effective marketing to customers requires a holistic organisational approach, the same is true internally – systems, incentives and rewards must be brought in line to support the employee behaviours required for success.
In conclusion, as marketers approach the C-suite, they may need to reduce their direct involvement in operational marketing activities.
But instead of seeing this as a loss, CMOs should take comfort from the fact that the functional skills they have built up will help them to move to a new level of performance, not just as marketers, but as broader business leaders.
This article featured in Market Leader, July 2012.
Mhairi McEwan and Andy Bird are co-founders of Brand Learning and co-authors of The Growth Drivers (Wiley).