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For Whom the Bell Tolls: Not Necessarily the CMO—How to Survive and Thrive Instead

by Laura Patterson  |  
January 22, 2008

The role of the CMO (chief marketing officer) has evolved since some of the first CMOs, such as Mark Mears of Blimpie International and Phil Gospels-Strumpette of Coca-Cola, came on the scene in early 1990s.

The CMO role—which initially tended to emphasize advertising, brand management, and market research—continued to evolve over the past 15 years as a result of the emergence of new media, the growing number of sales and service touch points, more complex distribution models, and the fragmentation of customer segments.

The CMO has moved from focusing primarily on brands and clever advertising to a larger, more strategic role designed to enable a company to meet the ever-changing needs of a diverse and global customer base.

Anthony Palmer, Chief Marketing Officer at Kimberly-Clark, has said that "the role of a CMO is really pretty simple. You can't ever lose sight of the fact that your role is to sell more stuff to more people for more money more often. That has to be the ultimate goal. You also have to inspire the organization to take calculated risks, and inspire the organization to love winning more than they are afraid of losing."

When the first CMOs came on the scene, customers approached identifying and researching products completely differently than they do today:

  • According to a recent McKinsey study, today over half of all US electronics consumers now rely on Web-based research to narrow the choice of brands and largely ignore the advice of sales staff when choosing among products in stores.
  • In 2005 nearly half of all customers who purchased insurance researched the subject online before talking to agents, and 80 percent expected to do so within five years.
  • Currently, almost 60 percent of aging baby boomers use the Internet to supplement their doctors' advice.

As new media proliferate, with blogs, social media, and independent sites becoming more influential, companies need to be able to leverage a variety of communication channels to engage customers and to anticipate and adjust quickly to different segment and changing preferences.

According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 152 CMOs left their jobs in September 2006, setting an all-time record. Studies from executive-search firm Spencer Stuart reveal that the tenure of CMOs continues to shorten. In 2006, the average CMO lasted 23.2 months on the job, down from 23.5 in 2005 and 23.6 in 2004. The growing and complicated list of tasks, along with the expectation for immediate results, are contributing to the high turnover.

In addition, a study by Pravin Nath, Assistant Professor in the Marketing department of LeBow College of Business at Drexel University, and Vijay Mahajan, John P Harbin Centennial Chair in Business at the Marketing department in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, found that the presence of a CMO had no impact on a firm's performance and that firms with CMOs do not perform better, and may perform worse, than those without them.

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Laura Patterson is president and founder of VisionEdge Marketing. For 20+ years, she has been helping CEOs and marketing executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of marketing. Her most recent book is Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization.

Twitter: @LauraVEM

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  • by W. Koleszar, Editor, The CMO Journal Fri Feb 6, 2009 via web

    This is a well-written piece that provides some great direction for CMOs. However, there are a couple of addition points for readers to consider:

    1). The Chief Marketing Officer role significantly pre-dates Mears at Blimpie and Gospels-Strumpette at Coke. In deed, research conducted by The CMO Institute has found that the title dates back to at least the 1950's. The role - albeit with different responsibilities – can arguably be traced back to the advertising copywriters of the 1800's (John E. Powers for example). There is much senior marketing executives can learn from this history – lest we are doomed to repeat it.

    2). While the Nath-Mahajan research is a truly an excellent contribution to the marketing literature, there are some legitimate criticisms of it in our publication and other outlets. It is definitely a starting point for understanding, but – as I am sure the authors would agree – more research is needed.

    William L. Koleszar
    The Chief Marketing Officer Journal

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