In all of the confusion of what the role of the CMO is, we seem to have forgotten the one thing marketing is supposed to do, Keith Smith explains.


There’s a lot of navel-gazing being done in the marketing industry about what exactly IS a CMO?

Just when we all thought we had a firm grasp of the new, digitally-enhanced, omnichannel lead marketing role, the powers that be decide to switch it all around again like some crazy 1970’s kids TV quiz show.

Now we hear that giant consumer brand owners like Unilever and Mars are redefining the role of a Chief Marketing Officer to include oversight of content and messaging. And that’s just one example. Coca-Cola scrapped its global CMO role late last year and Johnson & Johnson’s first-ever global CMO Alison Lewis departed last month, as the company retired the position.

In a world dominated by TV, CMOs were necessary for fine-tuning a message through certain media channels, but the role has become less top-down, more flat, involving content distribution that touches upon a variety of different departments in any organization. The role today is more empowered for analytics and feedback.

So I’d like to propose another responsibility that seems to have been neglected in recent times; sales.

As a CMO, how often do you listen to the feedback from the sales channel and if you do, does it ever influence the campaigns?

The old role of Sales & Marketing Director was designed to have a balance of, well, sales and marketing. But can a sales & marketing director, sit with, under or alongside a CMO?  I doubt there are many companies that can afford that kind of bandwidth, so most will just settle for a CMO at the top because it sounds better.

Even Unilever admits that they are suffering from fatigue when it comes to the marketer’s description of ‘Brand Purpose’ and it all seems – to under-informed people like me – that marketing is talking itself into a tailspin – Green-washing, purpose-washing, cause-washing, woke-washing et al. 

Marketing has gotten a bit too up itself and that’s where brand experts like Martin Galton, Greg Jordan and Tim Hollins come in. These three chaps form The Beehive, which they stress is not an advertising agency but more of a creative hive. They’ve just begun publishing a book called ‘How to avoid brand bullshit’, which gives Creative Directors, lead marketers and CMOs nuggets of advice that they may have forgotten in all the rush to be liked or socially correct.

Dog food is for Dog Owners – make sure you really know who you want to talk to and why

A couple of their mantras are particularly relevant here: “Dog food is for Dog Owners – make sure you really know who you want to talk to and why,” is one example and “If your category doesn’t make sense to ordinary folk, it’s crap; no matter how smart you are,” is another.

Sometimes with marketing the more you think about it, the harder it gets. So do the simple things first.

Most of the time, the simple things involve analyzing the sales channel; looking at what makes the product sell and what will make it sell better.

Great marketing involves listening to the sales feedback and adjusting the pitch, tone or proposition accordingly.

Take a case in point from the masters of long-distance selling – Canon. There sits a company with a highly extended sales channel, involving a myriad of different vendors and third parties. Among its most successful vendors is Creative Systems which provides best-of-breed imaging products and service solutions to businesses.

Matt Wingham, a director of the business also takes responsibility for heading up the sales. Has done for years and he’s well known in the industry for plain speaking, no-nonsense client communications; it’s what makes him special. He recalls Canon presenting him with a product called the Image Press – a fancy piece of kit, pitched at print shops and high volume users for books and brochures. “It was a great product but it was competing against a Xerox product that was less than half the price, consequently, sales were almost non-existent,” he said.

“We went back to Canon and told them that if they sold the system without all the ‘added-value’ accessories, cut the price and aimed it at advertising agencies and high-quality studios instead, it will sell. So they did. And it did; it flew off the shelves.”

I’m not advocating for all CMOs to start interfering in the sales channel but it’s important to remember that the folks in the field are often the best version of a marketing antenna you can get.

Without that valuable, free feedback, most CMOs will be forced into making assumptions or to cherry-pick data to fit the narrative, but the best, most assured way of staying a CMO is by making sure that your product sells.

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