How CMOs Can Navigate the C-Suite

The position calls for proficiency in multiple arenas

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For virtually every kind of communication, there’s exclusive language. In mobile messaging, emojis convey emotions. For composers, sheet music indicates the measures and melodies. Even baseball has its own system, with a sequence of unique signs shared between coaches and players.

For marketers in the C-suite, the common communication is the shorthand of strategy briefs, customers and creative campaigns. But, increasingly, marketing leaders are discovering it’s no longer enough to master their own lingo. Instead, CMOs often need multiple languages to thrive: financial terms, the vocabulary of risk and communication with digital peers.

Companies have long positioned CMOs as the creative muscle in executive ranks. An emphasis on marketing in the C-suite also means higher financial returns: Studies show that over the long-term, companies perform better when a CMO is integrated into the management team than in organizations where CMOs don’t hold the same authority.

Too often, however, CMOs fall short of their potential. On average, the chief marketer has the shortest tenure among all C-suite roles.

The mismatch between the expectations of the CMO and the reality of working with their executive peers can mean:

CMOs don’t have the authority to be effective

Many CMOs aren’t communicating effectively in the language of financial performance, and therefore face difficulties expanding their value beyond the marketing function.

Their jobs focus on the tactical

More than 40 percent of CMOs in a Deloitte study indicated that, while they were actively working on branding and campaign execution, only 6 percent were working on revenue-generating activities.

Too few companies believe CMOs should contribute to growth

Half of the interviewees in our study said having a company-wide mindset was important for CMOs. But a far smaller proportion thought it was important for CMOs to participate in company growth initiatives or play a meaningful role in budget and strategy planning.

CMOs can create a stronger case for authority, responsibility and results in this critical role.

If companies truly want CMOs to soar, it will likely take a collective effort to connect the dots between their function and the organization’s overall strategy. The pressure to contribute to financial performance will only grow but can be managed if marketers speak the right language with their peers.

CMOs as customer experts

As a first step, CMOs should actively use their expertise as the authority on customers. Today’s marketing teams have access to data by the terabyte, whether it’s mobile traffic or beacons storing information on shoppers inside a retail store. This vast amount of intelligence on customers can give CMOs the opportunity to collaborate with functions, such as supply chains or machine learning.

Marketers can deepen their understanding of these functions by proactively seeking out partnerships in the C-suite, which can ultimately help CMOs enhance the customer experience.

Make sense of marketing

Reaching out to executive peers is one thing; earning trust and cooperation for marketing actions is quite another. To accomplish this, CMOs may need to present customer insights not as marketing objectives but rather as a means for fellow C-suite leaders to meet their own goals.

A sales executive might respond better to marketing guidance if they believe it will drive sales. A CFO might be more receptive if they believe marketing directly contributes to revenue. The CEO may want to know that certain marketing strategies will help the company leap ahead of competitors. Connecting customer initiatives to financial goals and other benchmarks can help CMOs make marketing “make sense” across the C-suite.

“Center brain” mentality

Organizations have commonly viewed marketing as a predominantly right-brain affair, relying on intuition and creativity as hallmarks of the profession. With the increasing sophistication of analytics, it can be tempting to put more emphasis on the numbers, bringing a left-brain mentality to the function. CMOs can and should do both, using data to complement their creative instincts to develop teams with a “center brain” approach.

Consider taking an inventory within marketing to identify potential gaps in talent or partnerships with other parts of the organization. In other words, assemble a team with technical credentials and marketing sensibilities to meet objectives without losing the creative spark.

Since the CMO emerged in the 1980s, success in the role has often been obstructed by one factor or another. Companies have seen their CMOs bow out because no one has set the right expectations for the role. Put bluntly: Marketers feel their talents haven’t been put to good use.

We’re not resigned to this fate. In fact, we’re optimistic. With the help of technology, clear communication across the C-suite and the acknowledgment that it takes a diverse team of experts to manage the modern marketing function, CMOs can create a stronger case for authority, responsibility and results in this critical role.