The CMO is Dead

Goodbye to the CMO, hello to the CCO.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


This is a guest post by Professor Dominique Turpin.

I have some sad news: The Chief Marketing Officer is dead.

Fortunately, I’m talk­ing about the CMO pos­i­tion rather than a par­tic­u­lar per­son. But the decline of the CMOs influ­ence is an alarm­ing trend in com­pan­ies that claim to put the cus­tom­er first but in real­ity con­tin­ue to be product-driv­en. CMOs are increas­ingly power­less and peri­pher­al. The CEO sets the over­all strategy, the R&D and innov­a­tion teams design the product, and the CFO determ­ines pri­cing and depart­ment­al budgets. The CMO, mean­while, reports to a chief exec­ut­ive who often has only par­tial know­ledge of the cus­tom­er. No won­der some CMOs are con­sid­er­ing a career change.

The CMO pos­i­tion is dead for sev­er­al reasons:

Most CMOs are not really immersed in mar­ket­ing activ­it­ies. By this I mean under­stand­ing, cre­at­ing and deliv­er­ing value to the cus­tom­er. Too many CMOs are con­strained, focus­ing on PR and com­mu­nic­a­tions and not on products or pri­cing, so as not to invade the space of the Chief Innovation Officer or the CFO.

CFOs have become more power­ful. This is partly the res­ult of tough trad­ing con­di­tions and short-term pres­sure from fin­an­cial mar­kets. The CFO has taken con­trol of pri­cing decisions and is win­ning the race to the very top. The evid­ence today is that most chief exec­ut­ives have a fin­ance or engin­eer­ing back­ground, and few come from the ranks of sales and marketing.

Marketing impact is often hard to meas­ure. Marketing is more art than sci­ence. It’s dif­fi­cult to quanti­fy the res­ults of a mar­ket­ing cam­paign, and to know wheth­er all those mil­lions of dol­lars spent have led to an increase in real sales. And when a down­turn comes, the mar­ket­ing budget is often the first to be cut.

Nobody has a clear idea of what mar­ket­ing is. It’s fuzzy. Ask 20 seni­or man­agers in any com­pany what mar­ket­ing is, and they will give 20 dif­fer­ent answers. By con­trast, most people would agree on a defin­i­tion of fin­ance or production.

In some cases, mar­ket­ing is still power­ful and cent­ral to the cor­por­ate DNA. There are com­pan­ies with a vis­ion­ary founder who has a great under­stand­ing of the cus­tom­er, like Steve Jobs at Apple or Ingvar Kamprad at IKEA. And there are fam­ily busi­nesses, which are bet­ter than pub­lic com­pan­ies at tak­ing the long-term view needed in marketing.

But these cases tend to be the excep­tions. At most com­pan­ies the power of the CMO is being eroded almost by the day. Instead of griev­ing over this, CMOs can take the fol­low­ing prac­tic­al steps to reclaim some of their lost power:

Get rid of the CMO title, because nobody under­stands it. Create the new title of CCO – Chief Customer Officer. This per­son must be the voice of the cus­tom­er in the organ­iz­a­tion, tak­ing views and mes­sages from the mar­ket and spread­ing them intern­ally. Changing a job title is clearly not enough, but there are oth­er con­crete steps that can be taken.

Get the CEO to be the CMO. CEOs can drive the cus­tom­er-cent­ri­city agenda bet­ter than any­one else. They have the power to lead a company’s cul­ture, increase cus­tom­er focus and drive the recruit­ment of cus­tom­er-ori­ented people. The CEO as CMO also sends a strong mes­sage through­out the organ­iz­a­tion that the cus­tom­er is at the cen­ter of the company’s key pre­oc­cu­pa­tions and that mar­ket­ing is everybody’s job.

Get the CFO on board too. Doing this requires tak­ing some of the fuzzi­ness out of mar­ket­ing. CCOs should try to pro­duce hard num­bers that show a return on invest­ment and a clear impact on the company’s fin­an­cials. They could also take a refresh­er course in fin­ance to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of where CFOs are com­ing from. Even some­thing as simple as lunch with the CFO can help CCOs become more flu­ent financially.

Use cus­tom­er know­ledge to build influ­ence. With back­ing from the big two in the C‑suite, CCOs can use their teams’ cus­tom­er know­ledge to influ­ence dis­cus­sions of product design and pri­cing, and make a company’s offer­ings more sens­it­ive to the mar­ket. Very few busi­ness lead­ers ask them­selves ‘What are my cus­tom­er head­aches?’ But this is such a good ques­tion. Companies that can provide a product or ser­vice that make people’s lives faster, easi­er, bet­ter or cheap­er will always be on the right track.

Back in the 1950s, the man­age­ment guru Peter Drucker wrote that a com­pany has two and only two key func­tions – mar­ket­ing and innov­a­tion – and that all oth­er func­tions should sup­port these. Back to basics: Objective num­ber one for the CCO is cus­tom­er-cent­ri­city. This focus must come from the very top and fil­ter down through the whole organ­iz­a­tion so every­one has the incent­ive to add value to the cus­tom­er. Although pay­ing atten­tion to the cus­tom­er is com­mon sense, unfor­tu­nately com­mon sense is less and less com­mon. The CCO must be the first step in the right direction.

So – good­bye to the CMO, hello to the CCO.

About the writer: Dominique Turpin is the Nestlé Professor and President of IMD. He co-dir­ects IMD’s Orchestrating Winning Performance program.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: More Guest Posts

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has



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