In part one of a two-part series, guest writer, a friend of the Rockstar CMO podcast, and most of all, accomplished marketing and communications professional Irene Nehrkorn-Kayn looks at what’s wrong with CMOs right now.


How to jailbreak out of prescribed CEO assumptions in Marketing

Let me start with a quote from the Forrester Thought Leadership Paper Rethink the Role of the CMO, commissioned by Accenture Interactive in October 2018. It says:

“Business goals have shifted and now everyone is responsible for driving growth across the organization.”  

Having said that, the paper identifies the CMO as a “chief collaborator” [not the chief troublemaker] who should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to aligning the respective customer-facing roles within a company.

As a CMO, I fully agree.

If our VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world in the middle of digitalization, disruption and crises has revealed one thing, it is that, again, the customer experience must be at the heart of any company and brand. 

We are still human beings. Whether we buy online or offline, in a small corner shop or on a huge retail e-commerce portal, whether we shop for clothes or a new B2B software, we want to see the value add, have a seamlessly well-designed customer experience, and last but not least, be sure that the product or service we order fits our needs and helps us find the right solution for our requirements.

Who else, if not Marketing, has to be responsible for ensuring that brand advocacy is performed at all touchpoints of the customer journey, at any time? Or that products and services are designed and presented in a customer-oriented way? Or that a product becomes a brand so that people feel brand safety and are less price-sensitive as if they bought a no-name or me-too product? I will stop enumerating things here, as I am pretty sure you know what I mean.

However, being a CMO (by which I mean the top marketing executive in a company) is tough sometimes. One Senior VP at a US-based credit union (cited in the Forrester paper) has put it that way: 

“It takes a strong leader in a CMO’s seat to get marketing a seat at the table [of the C-suite]. They need to have a good view into all the lines of business and be the brand advocate. The CMO has to educate the organization and continue to communicate, that implementations that are structured to provide a customer experience are no longer technology implementations, they are experience implementations” 

And yet there is something we need to discuss that is so vital that Harvard Business Review has published a Spotlight Series, “The Trouble with The CMOs” about it. 

The first article of the series is entitled Why CMOs Never Last. Interestingly, it is not due to any “misconduct” or the “incompetence” of CMOs that their tenure, according to a Korn Ferry analysis, is by far the shortest in the C-suite. The focus is on (mis-)managing expectations and assigning authority to the CMO. The authors state that expectations for the CMO are often not articulated by the CEO, nor are CMOs given the decision-making authority for their area commensurate with their position.

The advice for CEOs in a nutshell: To avoid disappointment, the authors of the article suggest that CEOs should precisely define the CMO role in question, i.e., Should the CMO focus on strategy or commercialization, or even have an enterprise-wide P&L role?

Based on this, CEOs should then align responsibilities with the scope of the role and metrics with expectations before seeking a CMO who fits the assignment. Before eventually hiring the CMO, both parties must agree on the role, the expectations, and the respective authorities that the assignment entails. You see, clarity in communication is king!

And of course, CMOs should definitely bring in their expectations and design their role as well. 

As Tom Hanks famously typed to Meg Ryan in You Got Mail:

It’s not personal, it’s business. Recite that to yourself every time you feel you’re losing your nerve. I know you worry about being brave – don’t – this is your chance.”

You Got Mail

CMOs; it’s business – don’t take it personally.

In the next article, I will share my doubts with you and explain why I don’t think CMOs should sell their ideas to the C-Suite. [ READ MORE ]



Photo of prison bars by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash


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