Want To Make CEO? Start Measuring Like One

If you want the job above you, start doing it already. That's the advice I was given many years ago, and I can't think of a better axiom to underscore that if CMOs want to be the next CEO, they've got to think and measure like a CEO.

It comes to mind today after chewing the fat with Carl Tsukahara, CMO at cloud-based business intelligence company Birst. We were chatting about how this is potentially a golden time for CMOs to make it to CEO because there has never been a better time for the person who should know more about the customer than anyone else to take the top seat. However, when you come to name huge companies that prove the point, Mercedes-Benz and McDonald's are the only two that leap out at you immediately. There are doubtless more cases that don't come as easily to mind, but, the point is that despite the rise of digital, which allows companies to redesign customer experiences and analyse performance at multiple touchpoints, the route to the CEO's chair still seems to be via finance, operations and sales. The people who deal in very real, hard figures -- rather than "likes" and "propensity to buy" -- are the people who are making it to the top.

For a guy who works in business intelligence, it wasn't surprising to hear Carl talk about metrics as the way forward for the CMO -- but nonetheless, it's a compelling argument that all marketers are aware of. The only difference is that some are grappling with the issue, and some are running from it and seeking solace in how things have been ticking along up until now.

The big question that marketers have to answer every time they run a campaign or look at marketing's overall performance is the "So What" question. If there is a measure of success -- social media, we're kind of looking at you here -- where the outcome means little beyond marketing, it either needs to be discarded, or more usefully, refined until it speaks the language of business. 

So let's look at the elephant in the room -- the "like," the "favourite" or either the "share" or "retweet." We all know these are positive and good for the long term brand image but on their own, it doesn't mean much if someone "likes" our post about something but then buys from a competitor. For these metrics to mean anything, they have to be turned around into what a like or a retweet means. The figures needs qualifying with how much more likely a person who likes a brand is to buy from it, how much it grows their next purchase or how much it increases the brand's share of wallet. These are all terms that the CFO and CEO want to hear, yet they are so rarely qualified. 

The same goes for campaigns. It's one thing to say a lot of people "engaged" with a campaign, but how much more inclined to buy were the people who visited your Web site? Did they make a purchase? And how much above an average visit did they spend due to the campaign that brought them to the site? In the longer term, have you increased share of wallet in the future, and did these people come back and spend money with you instead of a rival? These aren't necessarily the metrics a CMO will need in every business but they do at least give an indication of where their thinking should be going. 

Another way of looking at it would be for a CMO and marketing team to ask, if we do x what impact will it have on our share price. Even if you can't come up with a real figure, knowing what you hope to achieve in business terms, and not just in validating spend one campaign at a time, is a good practice to aspire to.

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