Why CMOs Need to Own Product Development

Sometimes I miss the good old days of advertising and brand building. There was a time when marketers were in control – relatively speaking. We decided how we wanted to position a product or service, wrote a brief, produced advertising, and blasted the airwaves. We told people how and what to think about our products. It didn’t really matter whether our product performed exactly as positioned. If our product needed help, we would just increase the number of GRPs until the consumer submitted.

Here are some iconic examples of the olden days of marketing: Winston cigarettes, Maytag appliances, and Charmin toilet paper. The Winston people were bold enough to tell consumers exactly what a cigarette should taste like – “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Maytag created the impression that its washing machines never broke down, despite the fact that they were not the most “dependable.” And Procter & Gamble did an end-around competition by creating the illusion of having the softest toilet paper without ever having to make the claim. Those were the good old days.

In today’s world of hyper-connected consumers, the opinion of actual consumers matters far more than what the advertiser is saying. According to a Gartner study, the majority of consumers (74 percent) rely on social networks to guide purchase decisions. An eConsulting report states that consumer reviews are significantly more trusted – nearly 12 times more – than descriptions that come from manufacturers. And 84 percent of millennials say user-generated content has at least some influence over what they buy, according to a Bazaarvoice study.

Bottom line: the marketer is no longer the primary shaper of the brand. Consumers are now in control. They are the primary influencers of brand perception. Sure, we can create a tight and distinctive positioning and ensure all of our communication is on message. However, the user experience, and what the user says about your product, will likely define consumer perception and ultimately determine how successful you are in building your brand.

So if you have an inferior product, does it make sense to spend any money on marketing? If the product or service isn’t good, your users are going to let the world know. And like it or not, consumers trust their peers far more than they do our messaging. At a recent CMO conference, one of my peers told me a great story. Her product, which will remain nameless, was not very good compared to the competition. Not surprisingly, sales were off. There was tremendous pressure for her to increase marketing activity to jumpstart sales. What did she do? She walked into her CEO’s office and told him that she was turning back all of her marketing spend and that she wanted the CEO to spend it on improving the product. That took tremendous courage, but she likely saved her job through that action. Without fundamental change to the product, she was doomed to fail.

So your effectiveness as a marketer, and ultimate success, is highly dependent on product efficacy. If you’re like me, you’re not necessarily comfortable leaving your career to chance. There are many business models out there that give the marketer either direct or indirect control over what goes to market. As an example, when I was the CMO of Bare Escentuals, the product development function was part of my group. We only pursued products that we knew consumers would be excited about. When I was a brand manager at P&G, we didn’t run product, but we decided whether or not a product would launch. So even if you don’t “own” the product function, insist on having a say in what goes to market. After all, your most effective marketing strategy is simple: introduce products consumers will love.

Product Development image on home page via Shutterstock.

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