CMOs Need to Work With CEOs to Communicate Brand Values and Handle Crises

A brand's leader needs to step up and speak out to address the good and the bad

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Of all the duties of the modern CMO—customer acquisition, growth and retention, brand management, market research, data analysis—creating a more transparent business model has become one of the most vital.

Until recently, marketing was about controlled messaging, defined brand territory and a more unilateral, one-sided conversation headed by marketers. But in the social era of emerging voices and constant information sharing, it’s the consumer who’s in control of the conversation.

Any brand that’s ever faced a crisis knows this means there’s a demand that has to be met. Customers crave open, honest communication, and it’s no longer a question of when to be transparent but rather how we can establish and maintain a transparent brand that will weather the highs and lows of a business.

The answer starts at the top. A CEO is the voice and the example of a company, which holds a lot of weight in getting a brand back on track. As a CMO, it’s part of your job to get them ready to take that step and be the voice in the face of public backlash.

By effectively communicating with your leader to build a shared vision and common understanding, CMOs can drive a more cohesive external and internal communications strategy that addresses the growing demand for authenticity and transparency from CEOs throughout a business’ journey.

In the social era of emerging voices and constant information sharing, it’s the consumer who’s in control of the conversation.

Sharing a vision

Creating a brand that can withstand a crisis is about building a relationship on trust. Not only with your customers, but together as leaders. The key to a good CEO and CMO relationship is a shared belief in and commitment to a brand vision.

The trick to finding that bigger picture alignment is focusing on the unique customer and prospect intel your marketing team has. Open a dialogue with your CEO around the data to dive deeper into who your customer is and evaluate changes in needs and expectations of the brand.

When a crisis hits, it’s that collaboration and shared insight that will ensure your CEO is prepared to lead with transparency. It will also give both of you the confidence that your squad of PR, HR, legal, marketing and other relevant team members have what they need to come together quickly to hoist your message and quiet down the chatter.

All that said, your objective isn’t simply about being transparent when it counts. It has to be an established nature. According to recent research, nearly nine in 10 people (85 percent) are likely to stick by a business during a brand crisis if it has a history of being transparent.

Papa John’s is taking numbers like these to heart after founder John Schnatter’s widely criticized racist comments. The team came together and released a swift, but thoughtful social media campaign in the form of a video using actual customer tweets that call out the pizza chain and demand Papa John’s change its policies. In the video, newly-appointed CEO Steve Ritchie pens an open letter to apologize and address plans for unconscious bias training in order to regain confidence in its customers.

This campaign could not have happened in a vacuum. The entire Papa John’s team had to rally behind a shared vision for the company to execute. Similarly, by building upon the priorities of the business, CMOs can create one aligned vision for CEOs to face the public with, regardless of if the brand is in crisis or not.

Building a common understanding

Once you’ve aligned on a brand vision, your next steps are about ensuring your CEO understands why the brand will benefit from having them at the forefront of your crisis strategy. This can be one of the more challenging aspects of gaining buy-in because it is hard for anyone to be the face of a mistake or misstep. However, it is the CEO that consumers are waiting to hear from, and when crisis strikes, the ball is in their court to get ahead of the conversations with real, thoughtful responses.

The good news is the data is in their favor. Research shows perceptions positively increase for 73 percent of consumers when CEOs address a mistake the company made. Moreover, when CEOs are transparent on social, 38 percent of consumers are more loyal to the brand and 23 percent will share public praise.

These numbers are powerful, but seeing them in action is what really sets a brand apart. When organic fast food chain Pret a Manger was at the center of a food allergy death investigation pointed to the inadequate labeling of ingredients on its products, their CEO was quick to step up. Following the incident, Pret’s CEO was open and honest about steps the company was taking to prevent any further allergy attacks at their establishments and owned up to implementing meaningful change.

While Pret still has a long way to go in earning back the trust of many consumers, the action taken by its CEO to publicly vow to rehaul the company’s labeling method has moved them in the right direction.

Using examples such as these can help bring to light the importance of having your CEO at the forefront of a crisis and give them a tangible situation to relate to. Not to mention that creating this foundation of understanding will also make it easier to gain buy-in for a CEO-first crisis strategy.

Breaking through

It’s a noisy, busy world. A consumer’s digital life is saturated with thousands of voices, conversations and ads influencing them. When news is swirling without the singular voice of your company’s leader breaking through the frenzy to offer an authentic, transparent response, there’s no opportunity for your brand to stand out from the pack.

Instead, work alongside your leader to align on a vision and foster a common understanding on the importance of establishing ongoing, transparent communication from your CEO as second-nature, not just the default in a crisis.