5 growth plays for CMOs
How can chief marketing officers (CMOs) shift their focus from notching short-term gains to driving long-term growth? A handful of strategies can help marketers adopt a more expansive approach to their roles.
Striving for gains focuses the CMO’s attention on demandgeneration programs and a campaign-driven marketing model. While these can be effective foundational activities, they typically are limited in their ability to drive growth.
The CMO Council, in collaboration with Deloitte, recently embarked on an initiative to investigate if and how CMOs are embracing their roles as growth drivers. The study, “CMOs and the Spark to Drive Growth,” found that some marketers have adopted a focus on short-term gains fuelled by traditional activities such as demand generation and campaign-driven marketing. Still others have embraced a more creative and engaging strategy fuelled by storytelling and branding. While these activities represent positive progress in expanding marketers’ roles and influence, they can go only so far.
Yet the research also identified a budding cohort of marketers, focused on long-term growth, who are helping drive profitability. Indeed, 18 percent of the study’s respondents indicate they are “extremely poised to succeed” as the growth leader their organisations expect them to be.
What sets these “growth drivers” apart? A closer look reveals these executives prioritise, focus, and collaborate differently. They have common goals, mandates, and approaches that can provide a playbook for marketers looking to advance their own growth agendas.
Play No. 1: Define the difference between gains and growth. Many growth drivers not only define growth—they spell out the difference between short-term gains and longterm growth and profitability. Gains are short-term bursts of engagement and transactions, typically resulting from efforts such as individual sales-enablement programs and demand-generation campaigns. Longterm growth is sustainable expansion delivered through corporatewide, revenue-focused strategies and decisions.
Striving for gains focuses the CMO’s attention on demand-generation programs and a campaign-driven marketing model. While these can be effective foundational activities, they typically are limited in their ability to drive growth. Growth leaders, by contrast, commonly seek to shape the landscape ahead by identifying new product strategies, evolving customer needs, global market expansion, M&A viability, and other opportunities that can drive longer-term sustainable revenue growth. They also seek to improve operational effectiveness and efficiency to better manage costs and maximise margins for profitability.
Play No. 2: Speak the language of the business. Becoming a growth driver can require CMOs to rethink the language they use to report results back to the business. These marketers often have shifted from more limited conversations about campaign metrics to broader discussions about revenue, market share, customer lifetime value, and margin.
Many of the growth drivers interviewed for Deloitte’s research advise marketers to establish and embrace business metrics— not just marketing metrics—to gain more solid footing with senior leadership. For example, one marketer noted her entire organisation focuses on profitability metrics such as customer lifetime value, and puts data about the customer at the centre of every business decision. Many growth leaders also advocate a one-team approach, in which the business speaks, behaves, and engages with customers as one entity and not as a multitude of loosely connected parts.
Play No. 3: Connect across functional silos. Functional silos have long been highlighted as a challenge for marketers, blocking everything from the development of an organisationwide customer experience strategy to the integration of comprehensive customer data. Silos, as some respondents point out, typically are built out of a need to develop operational and functional centres of excellence. However, their evolution into impenetrable fortresses often has more to do with corporate culture and politics than necessity. For many growth leaders, building connections across functional silos is a priority.
These silos plague many CMO respondents, including the growth-driving leaders. According to 36 percent of growth leaders and 47 percent of all other respondents, functional silos that keep data and touch points separated threaten to derail growth strategies. Marketers shouldn’t attempt to remove silo walls, which can threaten functional stakeholders and heighten a company’s aversion to risk, according to the growth-driving executives surveyed. Instead, these executives actively build connections, treating each group as a centre of functional and tactical excellence that can be integrated into the overarching customer strategy.
Play No. 4: Mobilise support for the growth agenda. Some 71 percent of all marketers surveyed see the president or CEO as their primary ally, followed by the head of sales (56 percent) and line-of-business leadership (38 percent). However, growth drivers also see the board of directors as a key ally, with 35 percent indicating the board is a champion of growth strategy development, compared with 24 percent of the remaining respondents. This difference could indicate that the path to growth may be smoother for those with greater support from line-of-business leadership and the board.
Many growth-driving CMOs indicate they are working to rally corporate leadership around the customer. Half of the growth drivers surveyed believe they are totally aligned with their champions and allies, and that these corporate power centres fully support their growth agenda and activities. In contrast, only 27 percent of the remaining marketers surveyed indicate the same. In fact, the majority of nongrowth marketers believe their champions and allies, though supportive of marketing’s efforts, are not actively involved in advancing the marketing-defined growth agenda.
Partnership and, in some cases, real respect and friendship, mark the relationships many CMOs have forged with crossfunctional partners and collaborators. Just as savvy marketers seek to understand their customers’ needs and expectations, growth leaders often try to develop deep insights into what makes internal stakeholders tick.
Play No. 5: Think like a CEO—and prepare for the role. In the past, the career path for marketers typically started in digital, communications, or branding and, for those who rose through the ranks, culminated in the CMO role. Today, as CMOs actively play the part of customer champion, experience strategist, and growth leader, a new and exciting path extension has emerged: the CEO role.
Brands including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Campbell Soup, Mercedes Benz, Gilt Group, Royal Dutch Shell, and H&R Block have or have had CEOs with previous marketing experience. The hallmark of these executives is that, while they were passionate about the brand, they led by understanding and embracing the business. These leaders made a critical pivot in mindset and strategy, actively seeking out deeper knowledge about the priorities of business peers and functional leaders.