• John Bell

The Tenured CMO’s Survival Guide

Updated: Dec 8, 2020



Some Chief Marketing Officers only expect to be in their position for 36 months. For those that are in for the long haul – at least 6-8 years – there are key initiatives beyond short term sales that must be tackled. You can’t wait these out.


The “tenured” CMO is the one who has made it past the first 12 months that for one reason or another kicks out a lot of ‘bad fits.’ If you have made it that far presumably you can assimilate to the culture of the place. You have also figured out how to sustain or improve short term business results.


Next up are those bigger, foundational jobs that will suck energy and resources before having a payoff. If you avoid them, you may not only put your job in jeopardy but the competitiveness of your company down the road.


Here are four marketing must-do’s for the tenured CMO:


First-Party Data Strategy to Build Lasting Value & Competitive Advantage

Whether you sell direct or through a channel, your marketing organization’s ability to have solid first-party data on your customers and any channel partners (e.g. third-party sellers like independent agents or brokers) is key to competing tomorrow. That first-party data needs to expand with every transaction and includes demographic, psychographic, transaction and other behavioral data. Not all data is worth holding onto, but, in general, more is better.


The strategy needs to include the ability to access and apply the data to marketing and customer experience use cases. Your data needs to be on the cloud (if possible) to allow you to more easily combine it with 3rd party data sources like Acxiom, Experian, BlueKai, and more.


Command of your own customer and channel data serves as a defense against the walled-garden marketing channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Amazon. They have made their intentions clear. For now, they will not let user data out to partners in any significant way. Your first-party data strategy is also a hedge against Google’s “cookie-less” future, Apple’s recent IDFA changes, and the next versions of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). It's time to take control of your own data future, and your own customer data is the best starting point.

Marketers are likely over-reporting how they have mastered the data problem, but it is clearly becoming the next, big priority. Mark Grether @mark_grether highlighted the shift in Martech Today:


“Recent surveys show more than 80 percent of marketers are data self-sufficient, or working towards the goal of self-sufficiency. Even before GDPR, marketers were shifting priorities and investments toward a heavier reliance on data. Because of this, there is a trend towards bringing these efforts “in-house” closer to the CMO and not under the purview of an agency. In fact, Unilever cited that its recent $1 billion acquisition of Dollar Shave Club was in part to gain access to the brand’s “unique consumer and data insights.”


Integrating Human-Centered Design to Get Closer to the Customer

Of all the ways to get closer to the customer to design better products and services, the practice of human-centered design feels like the most powerful. Inviting customers in to co-create a product, to inform its design and how it is marketed, will do more to ensure our marketing teams (or senior executives) don’t get too swept away with their hunches.


Dave Thomsen from Wanderful Media calls out the strength of more feedback, more often,


“When you’re working at breakneck speeds with tight deadlines, taking time out to gather feedback from users can feel like a luxury that’s easy to put off. But there’s no substitute for the nuance and depth of insight that can come from an in-person conversation. And with a couple of well-crafted Craigslist ads, a couple hundred dollars to pay your participants and an afternoon, you can quickly check key assumptions, uncover opportunities for improvement and gather inspiration for new ideas.”

Working side-by-side with customers (vs. behind one-way mirrors) breeds compassion and empathy. Those are two keys to truly customer-obsessed organizations. Human-centered design is a great way to bake it into culture.


Learn more at What is Human-Centered Design – Greater Good Studio or this video from IDEO:


Better Revenue Understanding and Belief

The need for better revenue attribution is not new. Still, it’s shocking how hard it is for many marketing organizations. Big consumer product goods companies and ecommerce companies seem to have this licked. For most others it remains a work-in-progress. Many CMOs are stymied by the difficulty in proving that a dollar spent in marketing (across 12 channels over an extended period of time) results in a causal uptick in sales. Building all the hard data pipes to prove it and report it daily (unless you are ecommerce) may be prohibitive.


Demonstrating the correlation between strong marketing programs and business results via highly instrumented pilots may be the better strategy. Add to that a renewed commitment to marketing mix methodology which can likely serve you better than aspiring to absolute attribution.


Then comes the second part of the CMO’s job – building belief in the senior executive ranks. These are the folks vying for limited annual budget dollars. They may be IT leaders, product leaders, finance folks. They are not marketers. Communicating the evidence of these pilots and getting them to acknowledge and buy-in to those results takes some adept maneuvering. Never assume the results speak for themselves. You can have produced the most definitive results, but if you haven’t gotten the “management committee” shark tank to acknowledge it, all may be for naught.


Do you want to be a marketing services manager or do you want to be the CMO in line to become the Chief Revenue Officer?


Build a Marketing Operating System That Delivers Against Key Goals

I have spent a lot of time planning out the next marketing organization structure. Where do we go from here? Is it aligned to products, customers, channels, marketing operations like ‘demand gen?’ While it matters which you choose or which hybrid you build, in this age of “agile marketing” how you work together may matter more.


Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just adopting agile marketing as a method. First of all, it doesn’t exist. Many of us have been working to apply the principles and ceremonies of ‘agile’ to marketing. Listen to the Agile Marketing podcast and it corroborates my experience applying it to an enterprise marketing organization – some things work and others don’t. CMG built a variant on an emerging view of agile marketing as an OS. It’s pretty strong and yet relies on significant change management to actually put it into practice.


Some marketers see promise in the “flywheel” model. This has been made popular by Hubspot. The flywheel is really portrayed as an alternative to the sales funnel yet it has strong implications for how your marketing organization can operate. Now, there is a new model on the way via Mobile Marketing Association called the Brand Growth Flywheel. Keep an eye out for it.



Creating a Marketing OS that works for you is highly personalized to your organization. My best suggestion is to rally your teams around common processes which may have shared artifacts like a common brief, channel plan or a content Kanban board. Regardless of who the marketing team members report to or what discipline they come from – email vs. social vs. performance – if they share a common approach and tools to planning and execution they will become increasingly effective as a team.



Final Word

CMOs with an ambition to endure with a brand need to deliver value in the short run, and they need to place bets on foundational capabilities that will help the organization compete next year and beyond. Tenured CMOs build a portfolio approach to their jobs and bravely place bets on tomorrow.

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