The Rumors of Your Death…

Two weeks ago, “Ad Age” ran the headline “CMOs, You Have 23 Months to Live.” It jumped out at me, especially because I’m currently CMO at a startup firm. It’s not surprising CMOs are changed out after a brief tenure when you consider how most brands still approach what, in reality, is an incredibly fast-changing marketplace.

Now, CMO-bashing isn’t my intention. I love marketing, especially e-marketing as it’s now practiced. The article cited a couple key drivers for its findings, neither of which are directly under the CMO’s control. First, there’s the obsessive focus on short-term results that are the hallmark of America’s public companies. We can move that debate elsewhere, as any C-level exec is equally affected.

Second is the lack of accessibility to the CEO. It’s pretty clear a CMO, unlike a CFO or COO, is too often considered a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. Kind of like a chief people officer or any of the other new C-level roles traditional C-suiters still regard with some reservation. (Financial services is the exception. In that sector, marketing is considered critical. If you doubt this, look at MBNA, the absolute master of credit card marketing.)

I have the good fortune to serve in a combined COO/CMO role, something I truly love. From this perspective, the article really hit home. At its core, the issue isn’t CMO or COO or C-anything-O. It’s the way we run businesses and the way we take them to market.

Running a business and marketing it are too often treated as if they were separate, as if one can do its own thing and change the other when convenient. Business no longer work this way. The time it takes to figure this fact out (in both the office and the marketplace) has been steadily shortening, as with other Internet-age information loops. It used to be five years, then three. Now it’s down to 23 months. Run operations and marketing separately, and you’re likely to head down a familiar path. The COO generally has tenure, so guess who loses.

The great thing about being a CMO/COO is you must simultaneously deal with what you’re making, how you make it, and the way in which you take it to market. This doesn’t guarantee success, of course, though when failure occurs it tends to occur quickly. I don’t know how much of a benefit that is, but at least a product with predictably low expectations doesn’t get dragged out as successive CMOs take their turns at bat. Operating from the combined COO/CMO perspective, you can bet negative customer feedback (picked up in marketing) quickly gets all the way back to the product development team. Stuff gets fixed, and everything works better.

Nowhere is the connection between CMO and COO, and the rest of the C-team, more important than in firms engaged in substantial e-marketing. By “e-marketing” I mean all the online elements of a solid marketing plan –: brand development, messaging, feedback, assessment, CRM (define)… the whole nine yards. Any contemporary e-marketing campaign takes a brand online and into conversations consumers are already having. Conversations are happening anyway, and brands that don’t participate are missing out. Online feedback loops are short, and customer comments are candid. The Web is a great place to close the loop between operations and marketing, something I discussed in my prior column.

Where does all this leave the current CMO? Hardly resigned to a 23-month career! There’s a huge opportunity to redefine the role, to take the fight to operations, so to speak, as a team. The CMO’s role isn’t to oversee the next set of slick commercials designed to make consumers want something for reasons they can’t articulate. The job is to integrate the entire process of product development and going-to-market so consumers not only want a certain product but can also articulate exactly why they want it. Think Fred Reichheld and NPS: “Would your customers recommend you?” This link between operations and marketing, and long-term word of mouth , as Pete Blackshaw makes clear. This is the link that leverages the consideration cycle that’s critical both to e-marketing and the overall success of most products.

If you’re a new CMO, despair not. Viewed from the combined perspective of operations and marketing, you’ve got a lot more than 23 months to live. In fact, you’ve got the best job in the place.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me about it. I really want to know: If I’m wrong about this, I’m dead too.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.