Taking Measure: Leading A Fast Company

A recent study by spencer stuart found that the average tenure of a chief marketing officer has shrunk to just 22 months. Obviously that's not much of a window of opportunity to make a lasting impact on a company, so successful CMOs have to move fast. They have to develop the right strategies quickly, and then execute within the windows of opportunity afforded by their company's annual planning process.

And since moving quickly often means they must make decisions before supporting data are available, they have to be able to change direction immediately if evidence suggests their programs are not working.

The capacity to operate effectively in compressed time frames is sometimes called "competitive agility," and it's rapidly becoming a sought-after advantage and measure of success for marketing organizations and their agencies. But many CMOs are struggling to put the basic structures in place to enable this capability while running the business at the same time. The proverbial "changing the tires on a moving car" is a good metaphor for the transformations they have to lead. The following five steps provide a start and can often be implemented in one annual planning cycle.

>Identify the marketing decisions that have to be made at each stage of the annual business cycle. Marketers often view each situation as a unique challenge. Instead, they need to realize they face a limited number of decision types over and over and create a standing process for addressing each one.

>Define the decision processes. For each decision identified, marketers must gain organizational agreement on the criteria and metrics that will be used to guide the decision and on the responsibilities of the stakeholders involved. The metrics should be quantified and agreed upon in advance by stakeholders. Each stakeholder's role should be made clear. The decision may require a consensus, or it may follow what's known as a RACI format - i.e., defining who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed on the decision.

>Get the supporting analytics and data delivered on time. Decisions can be made by the data or by the clock, so data and analytics must be available to report against the metrics in advance of the decision date, or run the risk of becoming irrelevant. Advance planning against the decisions and the calendar is a must. All internal resources and external vendors should be aligned to the same calendar, with strong overall project management to ensure on-time delivery.

>Get in front of your "what-ifs." What if a competitor gets aggressive on price? What if the new line extension is falling short of expectations? What if there is a bad hurricane season? Asking these kinds of questions in advance and planning responses can prepare companies to respond quickly. The key to successful scenario planning is to have standing models that allow marketers to confidently predict the outcomes of the what-ifs and of the potential countermeasures.

>Get a strong course-correction process in place as soon as possible. Given their short average tenure, few CMOs will have the luxury to let existing programs "play themselves out" while new strategies and plans are being developed. Existing programs will have to be monitored and adjusted on the fly. To do this well, organizations have to know what flexibility exists in contracts and commitments, and have a standing meeting to review progress against plan. Ideally, the decision metrics and process are already in place, but the discipline of regular course-correction reviews shouldn't wait until they are.

Fragmenting consumer markets and proliferating media choices make today's marketing plans far more complex than those of just a few years ago, and more complexity means more decisions to be made. Organizations that haven't come to terms with this new reality run the risk of being overwhelmed by the number and pace of decisions, or of being paralyzed by the number of options at each decision point.

Strong process, analytics, and tools can help manage this complexity to enable faster, more timely decisions. This could offer a real competitive advantage - or at least a bit of sanity for CMOs trying to make the most of their jobs while they last.

John Nardone is chief client officer for Marketing Management Analysis.

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