Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who wants to be a CMO?

Life in Elizabethan England was memorably described as nasty, brutish and short. While this might also describe one of my competitors in global advertising, it is also a perfect description of the life of a Chief Marketing Officer. Tenure has now reached an all time low in the US. Twenty-six months in the job and you are gone.

This short-termism is the bane of my life. It means we are constantly dealing with newcomers who have no knowledge of the business they are in. They also don't have a clue about their brand narratives and legacy, their consumer or how to get things done in their own company. The biggest single rupture in an agency-company relationship is driven by the arrival of a new CMO trying to change everything whilst knowing nothing.

Wall Street obsessed CEO’s are driven by quarterly results and yet have very little feel for the new, rapidly changing Consumer Republic. It is a world where most of the marketing techniques they learned years ago are of no use whatsoever. With the consumer as boss, the mass market approach of yore - driven by research, precedent and sheer weight of spending - is no longer a panacea. The bean counters are obsessed with ROI and measurement. The trouble is that it’s emotional connectivity which is driving success, and emotional connectivity is very hard to predict and to measure with today’s archaic tools. Consumers are moving faster than companies, faster than CEOs, and CMOs are finding it hard to keep up. Add to this the fact that almost everybody you know (without any substance whatsoever) has strong opinions on marketing and advertising. You see the dilemma. John Costello, who I worked with at P&G, PepsiCo and Pay By Touch, and was also CMO at Home Depot, Sears and Yahoo!, can go on for hours about the constant second guessing CMOs have to put up with from every quarter. You don’t see people discussing the options CIOs or CFOs put in place; but everyone’s a marketing expert.

Building a brand is a long-term process that requires inspiration, intuition and vision. It’s incremental, as transformational changes need to come into play. Above all, it requires patience, flexibility and a long-term point of view. Of course this is completely at odds with most CEO’s fixation on short-term results driven by the short-term demands of market makers and traders.

Successful companies like P&G, General Mills and Toyota take a much different view. Their top marketing chiefs are given time, support and the tools to build brands and to get the job done. This is what sets these great, sustainable, long-term companies apart from the mass.

So if your mate is a CMO, buy him a beer and give him a hug tonight.


Susan Plunkett said...

In my view, Proctor and Gamble need to seriously review their website communication strategy and response. One of the worst systems I have ever come across and tried to deal with. I would rarely give up on something I wanted to achieve but I gave up with P&G and was left thinking negatively about the company. If they can't get basic communication right then I don't feel assured about the remainder of their service or product.

I'm not sure about some of the acronyms you've used today. CMO can mean chief medical officer for example.

But I came across a piece recently and one of the admonitions was "don't work for jerks". I find one of the elements that distinguishes jerks is their inability to ever be wrong and a total dissociation with the client. They fail proactive management and, at times, act like the client is the only thing wrong with their business process. Jerk employers also have no clue that clients loving staff is a GOOD thing.

Funny old world isn't it.

Jim said...

Why do so many companies leave ownership of the brand to the CMO? Too many CEOs see branding as a marketing "task", and not strategic (i.e. it can be chopped and changed campaign by campaign). People come and people go, but the brand strategy should have longer life than any one person's tenure. The brand strategy should form part of the core business strategy, and be owned and driven by the CEO, board and executive team as a whole. Tactical ideas, campaigns and decisions are much easier if the brand strategy is well understood and commonly owned.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Definitely agree with the comment about building a brand. It seems to me that it's similar to raising a child. When the brand is sick, it needs some medicine. When it strays down the wrong path, it needs some guidance to get back on the right one. Best of all, it constantly grows and constantly changes.

Imagine raising a child in the fraction of the time? Impossible.

It's a shame that these CEOs and CFOs are so profit-margin driven. It's also ridiculous that many companies are so hellbent on ROI that they won't take the word of a strategic researcher who understands the buying habits of a consumer beyond what is quantifiable.

I also personally believe that each account run by a CMO should have a minimum of 10% of their budget devoted to media or strategies that are immeasurable in terms of ROI. If they work, they work. If they don't? Lesson learned.