The Chief Marketing Officer – A New Boardroom & Strategy Role

Chief Marketing Officer - A new boardroom role

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has become one of the more commonly talked about corporate designations in recent years. Given the tremendous marketing potential offered by the new media and proliferation of distribution channels, companies have begun to realize the huge potential of marketing in guiding corporate level strategies and substantially contributing to the financial bottom line.

In spite of such an understanding, it is startling to note that the average tenure of a CMO in the U.S. is merely 4.1 years compared to a CEO’s average tenure of 8 years or a CFO that typically lasts 4.3 years. Furthermore, not many companies have a senior marketing representative in their C-suite. This begs the question: Do companies need a CMO or is the role of a CMO a mere hype?

This article probes this question and offers companies some guiding posts for better strategic directions.

Why do companies need a Chief Marketing Officer?

As the business landscape evolves, marketing also evolves into an organization wide strategic discipline. Given marketer’s knowledge of the company’s customers, it is imperative that the CEO and the corporate board have a representative of the customer to continually educate them. Additionally, companies need a strategic CMO to benefit from the following:

Align marketing with the corporate business strategy: Newer technology, powerful channel partners, and empowered customers have made the competition highly intense and marketing a very involved and strategic discipline. Marketing can no longer be confined to the 4P framework. Marketers, with their in-depth knowledge about markets and customers, should act as a major resource for strategy formulation. In all issues of corporate strategy – what markets to compete in, what segments to target, what entry mode and strategy to adopt, which partners to strategically ally with – marketing offers substantial information. In order to convey these holistic perspectives, it is imperative the marketing is represented by the CMO in the corporate boardroom who can speak to the directors and the CEO in their language. A classic example is the iPhone from Apple. Given the tremendously successful iPod and iMac, Apple could have become complacent. But the marketing acumen of the boardroom executives recognized the need to constantly excite the customers. Furthermore, they built their growth strategies on satisfying the unmet needs of their customers. Marketing played a crucial role in guiding Apple’s corporate strategy.

Connect the corporate boardroom with the customer: As Peter Drucker said, the only two functions of any organization are innovation and marketing. Irrespective how innovative a company is, how committed the employees are, and competent the top management is, unless the company connects with the customer, success will be elusive. The top management should constantly evaluate their strategic decision in the context of customer feedback – what do the customers’ value and how can the customers help the company in co-creating value.

The CMO plays a crucial role in constantly updating the boardroom and the CEO about latest customer preferences and how well the corporate resources are aligned to meet those evolving customer needs. Companies such as Levis Strauss, Sony, Toyota, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Aman and Singapore Airlines are some of the pioneering companies that manage to constantly feel the pulse of their customers. As such, the marketing takes a central role in guiding the corporate strategy by having the top management team and the CEO regularly updated about customers and markets.

Create a customer centric organization: Given the innumerable choices that customers have, ensuring long term customer loyalty and sustainable competitive advantage becomes highly challenging. The difference between the successful companies that achieve those objectives and those who fail is the corporate orientation. Customer oriented companies design and operate every aspect of the company with the customer in mind. To build a customer centric organization requires a highly concerted effort of all functions within a company along with every employee becoming a customer champion. These issues deal with organizational culture, organizational structure and corporate policies. The CMO can influence the boardroom and the CEO to implement measures that would allow to build a customer centric organization.

Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts is a classic example that showcases such a customer centric philosophy. The founder has managed to instill a culture that allows constant interaction between marketing and other functions with the company. Such an emphasis has resulted in world class resorts that always manage to delight the customers.

Zara is yet another company that successfully uses customer insights collected on the ground in stores to influence its product design process. The attention to customer centricity has accorded Inditex the status as the world’s largest and most successful fashion retail brand.

It is no secret that the world’s most successful companies have capable and result-driven CMOs in their C-suites. Some examples of CMOs and how they have positively drove business results and change include the following brands:

  • Johnson & Johnson: Since 2013, the Johnson & Johnson CMO has driven digital and strategic consumer insights, professional marketing, and the innovation pipeline across the organisation. Besides uniting the company’s global marketing team under one branding framework, the CMO also led the development of the first smart, personal baby sleep coaching system through its Johnson’s Bedtime Baby Sleep App and helped extend Zyrtec Allergy to living rooms in the form of an Alexa skill
  • Walmart: Responsible for all aspects of Walmart’s marketing efforts across customer research, strategy, program development, branding and customer communications, the CMO has helped Walmart rise against Amazon while consolidating its siloed marketing and e-commerce teams in Arkansas, California, and New Jersey. This has helped Walmart build a consistent brand voice and maintain a single reporting structure for the creative, media and social teams across its three sites.
  • Samsung: Following the company’s exploding phones disaster in 2016, the CMO has helped the brand through recovery by using the disaster as an opportunity to change the way the brand communicated with consumers, with a new focus on building love and trust through global campaign “Do What You Can’t”. The CMO also established the brand’s Marketing Center of Excellence, a cross-functional space in the bottom three floors of its New York office to spark creativity and openness.

From this discussion, it is evident that CMOs are strategic requirements of any corporate boardroom. But in spite of such a significant role played by the CMO, companies have not completely embraced the concept of a CMO. The next section discusses some of the main challenged faced by CMOs which make them vulnerable to boardroom dislike.

Challenges faced by the CMO

The challenges faced by the CMO are the problems increasingly faced by marketing as a discipline of late. It has been long argued that one of the fundamental challenges of marketing that has undermined the credibility of marketing, threatened the standing of marketing within a company, and even threatened the existence of the very discipline as a distinct entity, is marketing’s failure to quantify its outcomes and justify investments into marketing activities.

The three main impediments in this regard are:

  • Relating marketing activities to long-term effects
  • Separation of individual marketing activities from other actions
  • Use of purely financial methods for justifying and benchmarking marketing investments.

Due to the above situational aspects, CMOs are commonly not given the opportunity to participate in the strategic decision making of the company. Two such daunting challenges that result are:

Measuring marketing outcomes: Marketing fundamentally differs from other functions with a company like finance or operations in a couple of aspects. As marketing deals with people, their attitudes and eventual behaviors, they are not as predictable as a machine process. As such, there can be considerable time lag between marketing actions and the intended outcomes. Further, measuring these outcomes will have to involve both financial and non-financial metrics. Given these underlying challenges, it is often challenging for the CMO to convince the top management of marketing’s ability to competently allocate resources and significantly contribute to the company’s growth.

Explaining marketing’s centrality in a company: Many companies continue to equate marketing with advertising and sales. But marketing has long evolved from being a tactical departmental function to an organization wide strategic discipline. Given marketers’ knowledge about customers and other stakeholders, marketing plays a central role in leveraging the internal capabilities. But to assert such a central role within any company, marketers should be able to understand the different aspects of the company, its strategies, its resources and its limitations. Marketers usually are involved in their own jobs and fail to leverage their centrality in a company. CMOs face an immense uphill task in educating and convincing the C-suite of their capabilities and their rightful status.

The CMO and the corporate boardroom

Given the rather strong antipathy towards marketing within any company and especially within the top management team, CMOs should keep up with time and optimally utilize every resource at their disposal to address some of the fundamental complaints against marketing. Here are some guidelines on how CMOs can do so:

Leveraging the new media: Even as the Internet and other new media channels continue to challenge many of the fundamental ways of doing business, it also offers some tremendous advantages hitherto not within the reach of companies. As a majority of the companies compete to create a presence online, they also should establish structures in their websites that would help measure many a marketing variable. Software allow companies to track their customers’ footprints, their stickiness – the amount of time a customer stays on a site, the click through rate of online advertisements, effective optimization of layout design and feel to measure changes in attitudes and behaviors and so on. These tools can be effectively leveraged by the CMOs to begin the process of quantifying marketing outcomes. These early experiments also allow companies to gradually design their own set of useful metrics. Such an essential first step not only brings credibility and quantifiability to marketing, but also allows marketers to make a strong impression with the top management teams and the CEO.

Internal training: In order for marketing to rise up to the boardroom level, marketers should be thoroughly able to understand the strategic imperatives of the company across functions and be able to speak the boardroom language. Such a state can be attained through formalized internal cross disciplinary training. Such a training system would allow marketers to understand the dynamics of corporate strategy and also enable marketers to effectively leverage the collective internal resources towards ensuring profitability and optimal results.


This article has raised some very fundamental questions about the way the companies should be run in the future. The role of marketing within a company is only going to become even more central as managing customer interactions and co-creating value become the building blocks of any corporate strategy.

In the future, the CMO will emerge as the strategic connection between the corporate boardroom, the top management team, the CEO and the customer. Companies should offer their CMOs the requisite status and power within the company. Furthermore, companies must create an organizational structure where the CMO can guide the company’s vision and mission by integrating the myriad of functions within the company. In today’s digital landscape, the success of another company depends directly on the strength of its marketing and the CMO.

Asia has an unprecedented opportunity to elevate marketing to the boardroom level, so that the CMO can take center-stage in shaping and executing the corporate strategy leading to better shareholder returns.