A CMO’s Checklist for Driving Change

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This is TMTYL’s first guest blog post by Adam Needles. You’ll see us doing this more frequently as we find more and more people that we think bring some very interesting opinions to the table. Enjoy!


The following is an excerpt from a recent piece, titled “A CMO’s Dual Imperatives – Driving Organizational and Technological Change,” on the Propelling Brands blog.  Click here to read the full piece.

No member of the C-suite has a riskier or more-short-lived term than the chief marketing officer (CMO).  The average tenure of a CMO at the ‘100 most advertised’ US brands is 28.4 months, according to recruiting firm Spencer Stuart in a recent Advertising Age column by John Quelch.  In fact, as a marketer, few things are as much of a sure-fire, eventual career killer as being named CMO.

The challenges faced by the CMO are not unique to this position.  In fact, they speak to many of the fundamental strategic problems underlying marketing organizations and marketing science today and that are linked to a permanent shift in power from brand-company to customer and to a proliferation of communication channels and information sources.

For CMOs to succeed they must sit at the top of a newly-agile marketing organization – balancing constantly-changing priorities, being technologically savvy and delivering closed-loop insights into the impact of marketing programs – but too often, such an organization does not exist.  The imperative for the CMO, thus, is to drive change.

Driving effective change and achieving these goals requires a two-pronged attack – addressing both organizational and technological change.

Organizational change

Part one of this change is holistic and gets into issues of how marketing is organized and operates, how it defines its objectives and how it integrates with sales channels and the rest of the enterprise.

A CMO’s checklist for organizational change should address the following:

•    Customers must be moved to the center, not the periphery; brands must be re-invigorated in terms of aligning the company with its customers’ needs:  CMOs must be the voice inside the company that challenges the tradition of product-centric, supply-chain systems and that re-orients the company’s processes and systems around the customer.  CMOs also must re-position and re-invigorate their brands with a sense of customer purpose.

•    Revenue must become part of the marketing mission and the link between marketing and sales; brand must be re-framed as an asset:  CMOs must ensure not only that every marketer in their organization embraces their role in, and understands the risks related to, generating revenue; they must also be compensated to live up to this idea.  Where does brand building fit into this?  CMOs are often charged with being stewards of the corporate brand and/or the total brand portfolio.  But building the brand, per se, will not lead to revenues; instead, it will provide us with a critical asset that we must understand how best to leverage.

•    Best practices must BE practices:  CMOs must not only raise the bar for their organization’s marketing practices and but also make sure that this standard is pervasive.

•    Creative/abstract approaches and an analytical/concrete mindset must be guided to equilibrium:  CMOs must actively cultivate this equilibrium – ensuring their organization is driving fresh, new ideas while maintaining analytical accountability –  through hiring, training and cultural imperatives.

•    Marketing technology and marketing systems must be viewed as a strategic asset, rather than a ‘problem for IT’:  CMOs must be the champion of a technologically-savvy, data-centric marketing culture.

•    Marketing system ‘architecture’ must reinforce marketing sustainability and be designed with a longer-term perspective:  CMOs must focus their companies on investing in and building marketing organizations that do not sacrifice longer-term opportunity for short-term gain and that can scale delivery to customers in a repeatable and value-added way over time.

Technological change

Part two of this change is technology-focused and gets into a critical topic – the need for CMOs to make sure their marketing information systems are up to the task of dynamic, scalable and integrated marketing management.

A CMO’s checklist for driving technological change includes:

•    Breaking ground and leading the charge on enterprises’ build-out of customer-centric information systems:  The CMO must be the chief advocate for not only transforming his/her company into a more customer-centric organization but also for ensuring that enterprise systems mirror this objective, rather than hindering it or sacrificing it to short-term profitability.

•    Focusing the spotlight on strategic vs. tactical marketing technology:  CMOs must question their organizations’ existing marketing systems and push for investments that balance priorities and help achieve what I like to refer to as ‘holistic agility’ – i.e., effective and detail-oriented execution at the periphery that remains constantly guided and bounded by the strategic whole.  CMOs must also make sure their teams to not become bogged down in tactical, communication-channel specific technology or data.

•    Investing in an integrated marketing management platform:  CMOs must work to understand and champion investments in these systems.  Integrated marketing management platforms are critical to the success of their marketing organizations in responding to a dynamic customer environment; they are a key step toward becoming more customer-centric; and they are the critical link to ensuring real-time accountability of marketing.  Plus, “[i]t’s insurance for the CMO,” commented John Rotheray, a mobile software entrepreneur.  I might take it a step further:  An integrated marketing management framework is the strategic infrastructure a CMO requires to succeed.

•    Making sure business intelligence and predictive analytics are pervasive throughout marketing systems:  CMOs must be aware of and push for business intelligence and predictive analytics being a critical element of their marketing technology infrastructure.

•    Pushing for a balanced picture of both online and offline marketing activities:  CMOs must push for marketing technology infrastructure that balances the total picture and integrates both online and offline pictures of customer-brand interaction.

•    Integrating with other enterprise systems:  CMOs must lead the charge on this integration and remind their peers that the type of real-time insight they demand into marketing activities is not possible without total integration.

It is only by addressing the need for both organizational and technological change that CMOs can position themselves and their marketing organizations for success in a newly-challenging marketing environment.


Adam Needles is an entrepreneurial marketing leader, who is passionate about two areas — brand strategy and technology innovation.  And he both researches and writes regularly on the intersection of the two.  You can read his regular posts on his Propelling Brands blog or via his Twitter stream @abneedles.  He is also the former head of marketing for technology-industry analysis firm The 451 Group (and knows what it means to be challenged as a CMO).

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