Commentary

You Don't Need A CMO

A few years ago, I wrote an article about the demise and rise of the CMO. At the time, Coca-Cola had announced that it was eliminating the role of CMO, and there seemed to be some growing support for removing these positions across the industry.

Fast-forward two years, and Coca Cola has announced it's bringing the CMO role back. 

But the debate isn’t over quite yet. Just as one Fortune 500 company reprises the role, another takes it away; Gap recently announced it was doing away with its CMO position. 

This issue can seem a bit confusing and contradictory. The reason for this debate isn’t because we’re unsure if the position matters or not. It’s because we still really don’t know how to define the role. Marketing continues to face stereotypes and biases that prevent it from being fully embraced by other corporate leaders, although the stereotypes have evolved to include “personalization AI implementer” and “omni-strategist.” There is still a perception that marketing’s sole purpose is to find the right promotional formula or AI solution to get customers to buy more.

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While the industry continues to flip-flop on whether this role is in or out, I believe energy is being wasted on answering the wrong question. The discussion around how to structure your organization and what to call the people who work there is by definition very self-centered. It shouldn’t be news if you add or remove a role.

In fact, it doesn’t matter if you have a CMO. Today’s success isn’t about a single role existing or not existing within a company. Ongoing success is actually about having a corporate ecosystem and way of operating that benefits the customer, and all functional leaders should see themselves as equal partners in solving the customer equation.

CMOs can only do so much to convince people to buy an ill-designed product or suffer through a terrible store experience. What they can do is ensure that we’re listening to unmet customer needs -- and sharing that with the other drivers of the business who can make real change.  Whatever you call the role, someone in that ecosystem needs to be responsible for thinking about how the business operates using a customer lens.

My colleague Chuck Densinger notes that “100% of your revenue comes from 100% of your customers,” so it’s a bit naïve to believe a customer lens isn’t on equal footing with other views of the business. 

Who are you selling things to? Why are they buying? The traditional financial, geographic, or product lenses that exist today are clearly important, but they can’t answer any of these questions for you. Your new “likely, but-not-necessarily, a CMO” needs to bring this perspective to the table.

So, do you need a CMO? Not necessarily. But, do you need someone to represent the customer perspective in managing the business? Absolutely. No matter what you call it, we’re not going to make progress until we stop debating our internal job titles and instead start thinking about how we add a new customer view to the way we operate, manage, and evaluate the performance of our business. 

7 comments about "You Don't Need A CMO".
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  1. Ford Kanzler from Marketing/PR Savvy, March 23, 2020 at 4:40 p.m.

    I heartily agree. In my 30+ year career working with dozens of companies, often the person with the clearest customer understanding and perspective was a Sales VP or hed of customer service. In other cases, I've encounter CMOs/VPs of Marketing who couldn't even write a marketing plan. One client jobbed that task out and it came back without a single mention of competors! Its the value of your customer understanding that's important.

  2. Larry Smith from Live Idea, March 23, 2020 at 6:12 p.m.

    Peter Drucker in the Practice of Managment, published in 1954, nailed it:

    There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer… Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two — and only these two—basic functions: marketing and innovation…

    Marketing is so basic that it is not just enough to have a strong sales department and to entrust marketing to it. Marketing is not only much broader than selling; it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise.

  3. Ronald Kurtz from Mr., March 23, 2020 at 8:07 p.m.

    I am from the old school and tend to agree with Larry Smith (and Peter Drucker). 

    It seems the role of the CMO is easily defined as combining an understanding of the consumer and their motivations with strategies and actions that effectively coordinate the functions of the 4Ps (product, promotion, price, and place or distirbution) to create a solid foundation for the business.

    I know the AMA has abandoned the concept of the 4Ps, for some reason that is not clear, but perhaps that has contributed to the confusion about the role of and need for a CMO.

  4. Ronald Kurtz from Mr., March 23, 2020 at 8:07 p.m.

    I am from the old school and tend to agree with Larry Smith (and Peter Drucker). 

    It seems the role of the CMO is easily defined as combining an understanding of the consumer and their motivations with strategies and actions that effectively coordinate the functions of the 4Ps (product, promotion, price, and place or distirbution) to create a solid foundation for the business.

    I know the AMA has abandoned the concept of the 4Ps, for some reason that is not clear, but perhaps that has contributed to the confusion about the role of and need for a CMO.

  5. Roger Draper from Stirling Cooper, March 23, 2020 at 8:14 p.m.

    Looks like the pendulum continues to swing--and bash the pinata of marketing left and right. Call the function whatever you want, just don't call me late for my bonus when revenue hits the number I signed up to deliver. And don't forget that what I did cut the cost of sales.

  6. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, March 24, 2020 at 5:29 a.m.

    I concur with Brooke on many items. But...it is time to retire the 4Ps as an operating mantra. Not because they are unimportant, because the model leads to marketing approaches that are product/brand centric rather than consumer centric. Many marketers feel the consumer journey paradigm better fits the evolving consumer and business environment. It also shifts focus from business or brand needs to addressing consumer needs.

  7. Ronald Kurtz from Mr., March 24, 2020 at 2:23 p.m.

    Afraid I don't understand or agree with James Smith's position that it is time to retire the 4P's. As I noted in my original comments, all elements of the 4Ps should be planned and executed based on an understanding of the consumer and their motivations. This was the way I was taught the 4Ps.

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