Views from the top: What CEOs and other execs really think of marketing

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If someone were to write a book about the position marketing finds itself in today, he or she might title it Great Expectations. After years of defining marketing primarily as the “brand” or “advertising” arm of the business, many executives now regard it as an investment and rely on it to drive growth. This consensus emerged from a series of surveys and in-depth interviews we conducted with more than 200 leading C-suite executives. We asked them about their views on marketing and how CMOs are best able to drive growth. Here, in their own words, are their thoughts.

CEOs are champions of marketing

Among C-suite executives, CEOs stand out as the biggest and most enthusiastic supporters of marketing’s mission and growth agenda:

Marketing and data in particular are first-class citizens in a way they were not four to five years ago.

Direct-to-consumer entertainment company CEO

Marketing as a support function is antiquated.

Retail CEO

Other C-suite members can also be supporters

Although CFOs and COOs are generally more skeptical about marketing’s value than are CEOs, at some high-growth companies they have become believers:

Generally, marketing [used to be] considered an expense, and not an investment in growth. But now, when we foresee headwinds, it is the CFO who says, ‘We are not going to touch marketing.’

Retail apparel CMO

Cuts to marketing will look OK in year one, but by year three, when you’ve starved spending on brand, consumer research, and product innovation, the pipeline will dry up and you’ll have a problem.

Former packaged-goods CFO

When the COO established his goals, digitized marketing was one of them. It’s one thing for me to have that as one of my goals, but to have him also reflect my priority is pretty unique.

Enterprise-software CMO

Several factors are driving marketing’s evolution

Respondents identified at least two ingredients responsible for making marketing a “first-class citizen”: greater measurability and the ability to demonstrate complete ownership of the customer:

It used to be that the CMO worked in a world very different from the rest of the executives. Marketing was more of a craft and not as measurable. [Data] has changed how the C-suite is interacting with marketing. Now it’s very hard to separate company strategy from marketing strategy.

Former retail CEO

The greatest value of a CMO is their fundamental understanding of the consumer. You must stay close to them to drive growth.

Packaged-goods CEO

My perspective is that marketing owns the full end-to-end customer journey, from brand sentiment and awareness . . . to post-purchase.

Specialty-retail CEO

Yet these changes are not universal

At some organizations, marketing continues to be seen more narrowly as “advertising”:

They [the rest of the C-suite] never see marketing as a serious topic. They really need to work on trusting us.

Insurance-company CMO

Marketing isn’t brought to the table as frequently with the C-suite as other parts of organization.

Financial-services CMO

The difference boils down to relationships

The bonds a CMO forms with other members of the C-suite matter. CMOs can’t deliver marketing-led growth to the company on their own. Cross-functional collaboration is essential.

In their interactions with CFOs, CMOs need to show a clear line between marketing spending and value

The most effective CMOs build a business case to demonstrate that marketing is accountable and does, in fact, drive predictable and significant value:

The CMO–CIO relationship flourishes when there are shared goals and accountability

The best CMOs understand that marketing and technology are inextricable partners in developing world-class data and marketing platforms:

Arguably, there has never been a better time to be a CMO. CEOs and other executives are giving CMOs permission to step up and think boldly about how marketing will own growth. CMOs now need to give themselves the latitude to take on ever-more-ambitious ideas, unify the C-suite, and deliver marketing’s mission across the company.

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