Marketing communications guru Larry Weber may have been one of the first to publicly question the need for a C-level executive in marketing when during his keynote address at the Syndicate Conference last year he said: “Whenever a business category gets messed up, we get a C title. Now marketing is so messed up, we’ve got CMOs.”
Triggered by the recent Spencer Stuart survey, Marc Babej and Tim Pollack (disclosure: both acquaintances/friends and contributors to the Corante Marketing Hub ) tackled the question in dept in their most recent “Unsolicited Advice” column which gets published weekly on Forbes.com.
In their analysis they conclude that the reason that an average CMO’s tenure is shorter than that of a CEO’s is because their job is ill-defined, and they proceed by making a recommendation for what a CMO’s job description should be – “responsible not only for marketing communications but also (sorry to be stepping on toes) for product development and sales.”
More specifically, they believe that a CMO’s responsibilities should include: ensuring the company’s products and services are in tune with customer demand, directing new product development and ensuring the continuing appeal of existing offerings, marketing communications, achieving top-line growth objectives, and meeting corporate margin goals.
While they bring up some great points, some of them deserve some further discussion. First off, let’s start with an area of responsibility that was omitted from the list but that arguably should be part of a CMO’s responsibilities. A CMO should be responsible for all customer “touch points,” and that should include customer service. You can work for years to build an awesome brand, only to squander it after a few months of poor customer service (and following that with poor communications makes the demise event faster – as witnessed by Dell, Kryptonite, Mercedes, etc.). The CMO needs to be held accountable, and have the responsibility, to ensure that the customer experience is consistent across all customer touch points.
This next point may just be a semantic difference, but from a company’s products and services point of view, the focus should not be on meeting customer demand but on meeting customer needs – both explicit needs as well as latent needs. Finding the latter and building successful offerings to meet those is an especially tricky proposition, but one which if done properly, often results in disruptive, breakthrough, and market-creating product innovations. Customers will not tell you, nor could they, how you should build such products. You “invent” them first and then find ways turn the latent market needs into active active needs.
Having a CMO responsible for product development instead of product definition and product marketing may not be such a good idea either. The product definition process is a process that should be driven by the CMO’s product management team in partnership with the technical/product development team. But once a product is defined, including cost targets and time-to-market targets, the product development process itself should be run by a dedicated and independent product development executive, not the CMO. In fact, having the CMO in charge of product development may result in more “me-too” products, not more competitively differentiated products. Another unintended consequence of having the CMO run the development show, especially true in high tech and if the CMO is also in charge of sales, may be an abundance of one-off product versions/special editions built specifically to satisfy end-of quarter requirements. Such situations eventually lead to costing a company millions of dollars in wasted upgrade and migration resources, not to speak about the fact that it can also severely limit a company’s ability to innovate in the future.
While CMOs should be held accountable for achieving top-line growth objectives and corporate margin goals, hopefully that is an accountability that they share with the rest of the executive team.