Why CEOs Don't Trust Marketing Chiefs to Grow the Business

The CMO role is under fire, but there are ways they can earn respect and trust in the C-suite

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CMOs are facing doubt within their organizations that they can drive growth. Time is increasingly committed to counseling CEOs who believe they have a marketing challenge. And they’re not alone—other C-suite executives are expressing the same concerns about their CMOs, indicating an industrywide dilemma about the perception of chief marketers. 

The data is startling. According to research by Deloitte, only 26% of CMOs are being regularly invited to attend board meetings, and Spencer Stuart has reported that CMOs continue to have the shortest tenure on average of any member of the C-suite at 40 months. The profession is increasingly under fire.

As the alarming realities of declining tenure and lack of trustworthiness dawn for CMOs, there is also a drought of resources to diagnose and solve these issues. Without a more substantial understanding of the obstacles facing their position, CMOs won’t be able to generate effective strategies to reassert themselves as valued members of the company.

In hopes of driving more conversation, research and dialogue to restore the value of a CMO, here are five strategies that can have an immediate impact:

Fall in love fast

Focus on the CEO and connect with the strategy. What are the CEO’s top three priorities? Are they the same as your top three priorities? Can you show a direct connection to your key initiatives and budget allocation?

Build the company

Don’t be selfish. Marketing cannot change companies alone, so start thinking about how all members of leadership can own and deliver collectively in terms of company narrative.

Question if brand management is dead

The CEO looks to the CMO to integrate new models of thinking and defy the status quo. The CMO must decide if brand management is the theory they want to live by, as it’s often seen as a one-dimensional, old-fashioned concept. The disciplines of economics, finance, technology and manufacturing have reinvented themselves repeatedly.

Speak the language of business

CMOs must be fluent in the language of business. Oftentimes, CMOs and their departments “speak marketing,” but this can be too difficult to parse for department leads who are not as experienced in this space. The marketing language can often get lost in translations across the C-suite and in the boardroom.

Instead, speak in terms of growth, revenue, value creation and share price. A profit and loss statement is the best teacher of all. Marketers who have created profit and loss statements can streamline communication for maximum efficiency and understanding.

Earn real trust

Extend a hand and build trustworthiness, as this is the foundation of performance. Trust is a quality that cannot be bought; it must be earned by being vulnerable, and it is the single most important attribute of leadership. By forging valuable relationships with CEOs and fellow board members, CMOs will be able to build a more credible reputation with peers and showcase their value.

It’s time to make changes and bring value, respect and longevity back to the CMO role. There are no easy fixes, but minor changes can leave lasting impressions and completely change the C-suite dynamic in a positive way.

It’s essential to reflect and examine actions, initiatives, thinking and the foundations of the marketing profession. Let’s rethink and rebuild brand management and the role of the CMO for a stronger tomorrow.

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This story first appeared in the Sept. 20, 2021, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.