What are some unique challenges that first-time CMOs face today that you perhaps didn't face?
Berra: The level of accountability, which was already increasing, totally accelerated with COVID. CEOs and boards want to see how marketing activities are driving new customers, sales, and margins. CMOs today are under intense pressure to prove out what they are doing. You can’t overinvest in customer feedback; things are changing so fast you need immediate feedback loops.
Revelle: Customers are much more engaged with social issues and they demand transparency, so CMOs are constantly going to be questioned about their brand’s stance on a host of issues. Understanding these complex issues from a variety of perspectives, and responding appropriately, is critically important. You have to work with all of your stakeholders and ultimately have to make the right decision for your organization.
Goose: Marketers have to reinvent connections and engage consumers in ways they never have before. It’s a constant process of testing, learning, and optimizing, with the expectation that results will get better over time. There’s no such thing as a yearly plan or a set-it-and-forget-it mentality anymore.
Brimmer: That’s a major challenge because people are incredibly fatigued. With budget cuts and layoffs, marketing departments are spread incredibly thin.
Thalberg: Particularly in times of business crisis, the marketing budget can be a prime target for cutbacks. As a leader, it’s important to be able to bring advocacy for what the function needs with as much concrete modeling as possible regarding what the impact to the business will be with and without the proper funding. When investments aren’t optimal, it takes a combination of creativity to work with what you have, as well as transparency about trade-offs.
CMOs have the shortest tenure of any C-suite position. The function also ranks near the bottom in terms of succession planning. Could that be why we are seeing an increase in the number of first-time CMOs?
Thalberg: The short tenure narrative is frustrating. It suggests a lack of patience, understanding, and support. CMOs can also fall victim to being handed the accountability on results—often quite short- term results—without the corresponding authority and/or resources to fairly own that accountability.
Goose: It’s hard to prove marketing results in the short term. Public companies are focused on quarterly results, and marketing results don’t turn over that quickly.
Brimmer: The function is losing a lot of good talent to other industries. Great marketing minds are going to tech companies or other companies and using the function as a launching pad to other positions. We have to figure out a way to attract, cultivate, and retain more high-potential talent.
Revelle: I think the tenure and succession issues are intertwined. CMOs need to have strong teams to help drive the function with them now that they are part of the C-suite. If CMOs devote too little time to enterprise initiatives, they won’t have the overall impact on the business that’s expected of them. Building great marketing teams can help both increase CMO tenure and develop successors.
Berra: I agree with that. The length of tenure is often a product of the CMO’s ability to be a problem solver for a wider set of questions outside of marketing. CMOs who are too focused on a media plan, for instance, aren’t helping the organization pivot to a new market, product, or operating model.