As we step into 2024, the role of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) continues to evolve. No longer confined to traditional marketing tasks, CMOs now grapple with customer experience, data strategy, and change management across the entire business landscape. The expectations and impressions of the CEOs have some important insights on how to navigate this dynamic environment.
Boathouse’s Third Annual CEO Study on Marketing and the CMO has some really interesting insights into this world of CEO – CMO dynamics. Based on input from 150 CEO from mid-large size public and private companies, the survey spans 17 sectors to get a broad look at where things are good and where they need help.
(It's interesting to compare these findings to the CMO Survey I reviewed in September.)
Here is a link to the report with my annotations. The first 24 slides are summary with all the data points. The bulk of the slides are the individual data points. Boathouse provides their Conclusions starting on slide 59.
Measurable Objectives that CEOs Care About
Measurable objectives are the desired outcomes of your marketing programs. They should be quantifiable and trackable over time, so you can assess your progress and success. Trends are usually the best way to express these metrics. However, the most common way they are presented in executive reporting is verses a previous period, such as Year-Over-Year. When writing measurable objectives, it is good to start with an action word that describes how things will change, such as "increase", "reduce", or "grow".
These are in order of priority, according to the study:
Increase Revenue. This was most important, and it comes in two flavors – via new customers and via account growth of existing customers. Because this is revenue overall, this could be counted as first-time revenue or repeat purchases or customer lifetime value. In all cases, it is total money-in.
Increase Sales and Market share. Half a step from revenue, this seems more like account growth and market penetration (in industries where this can be quantified). Where this becomes less impactful is if basket size declines in order to gain more sales. Or if sales growth is dependent on discounting. Discounts can put long term marketing share at risk if competitive pricing becomes an important decision-making factor. (This does not mean that discounts don't have a purpose, but your strategy should address this. See below).
Improve Differentiation. This is an effective strategy to avoid price competition. You can measure this by your competitive positioning. It is not enough to have a number of new ideas. You also need to know how your competitors are performing and communicating. The advantage is that you can use the same data sources to analyze both your own and your competitors’ performance. This makes it easier to quantify the comparisons.
Improve Brand/Reputation. Closely tied to differentiation. This is an interesting one and showcases the difference in thinking between CMO and CEO. Whereas the marketing focus on Brand is as an identity, the CEO main concern with Brand is how effective it is. The Brand is helpful or hurtful, it's never just a messaging platform and a logo. Quantifying this could be similar to differentiation, but with a strong sentiment focus.
Grow the Company Narrative. Narrative pull-through and topical alignment are the most likely way to quantify this objective. How often are your talking points repeated? How often are you associated with the topics that your products and solutions address? This bleeds into SEO and organic strategy. Like differentiation and reputation, the data sourcing for this is likely to give you insights about your competitors as well as yourself.
Directives from the CEO
Unlike measurable outcomes, directives are something that you accomplish. They are similar to requirements, which means you either meet them or you don’t. They have Yes/No answers. They are usually vague and ambitious statements. There are often multiple ways to achieve them, which makes working on directives fun. Directives are usually written as declarative statements. They are also sometimes called “Strategic Imperatives”.
These are the three directives that came across in the study:
Be Best in Class. Super vague. This can be easy or hard, depending on who is doing the grading. Probably takes a bit of conversation to work out what the expectations are here.
Exceed Expectations. Again, more of a gut-feeling that a checklist. Conversation will be needed because this depends on personal approval.
Leverage AI. This one is more straight forward and depends on the context of your industry and the current state of your organization. But everyone is looking to leverage AI, more or less.
Strategies for Success
The report also suggests some strategies to meet CEO expectations. In addition to achieving the directives and measuring your objectives, you can be a successful CMO by:
Cultivate trust with C-Suite. The senior relationships are critical, and the survey paints a picture full of dysfunction. The biggest gap seems to be between the CEO and the CMO. There may be reason for this (short tenures seem like a culprit), but in the end these relationships are a key component of a job well done.
Look for ways to be innovative. Innovation really means bringing you’re A-Game to the table every time, never being satisfied with the status quo, and having an open mind. These are the hallmarks of someone how is fully engaged and driving toward success. Some of this is appearances. Some of this has to be tempered with good business thinking. But this climate and the CMO job requires innovation as a practice.
Get good at strategy, because most CEOs think CMOs suck at it. Strategy is strongly connected to innovation. If you can take some great new ideas and make a solid plan for how to get them to drive your measurable outcomes, then you are on the right track. Strategy and planning are not the same, but considering how poorly CMOs were graded on strategy, that might be a good place to start.
CEOs want clear impact, not just empty promises and good intentions. Boathouse's CEO study reveals the top things they care about: revenue growth, market share, brand differentiation, strong narratives and reputation. But it's not just about hitting numbers. Cultivating trust, embracing innovation, and demonstrating strategic thinking are crucial for CMOs to navigate the C-suite and steer their marketing efforts towards success.
Remember, data-driven trends and measurable progress are key. Showcasing how marketing drives sales, improves brand perception, and builds a compelling company story are also critical. The innovative leader who brings fresh ideas to the table and is backed by a solid strategic plan has the makings for a success story. By excelling in these areas, CMOs can earn CEO trust in an environment where trust is sorely lacking.