Successful CMOs Create the Structure to Innovate

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Change conquers those who fail to receive it as a friend. And change has got marketing in a headlock these days.

Consumers engage with brands, explore products and make purchases in ever more channels and on ever more devices -- and this dizzying trend will only continue. Marketers are struggling to keep up (understatement alert).

Let’s walk through five ways CMOs can help their organizations not just adapt to the changing landscape of marketing, but thrive in it. 

1. Promote and Support Specialization

The rapid changes in the marketing landscape puts a premium on specialization. The more channels that emerge, the more difficult it is for a team of generalists to bring to bear all the skills needed to function effectively. A single AOR (agency of record) gets harder to find, too.

Forward-looking CMOs will restructure their marketing organizations, creating centers of excellence for key marketing capabilities (mobile, social, analytics) and perhaps outsourcing marketing activities that require ultra-specialized skills.

Managing specialists brings with it a new challenge: disseminating their specialized knowledge to everyone across the organization who needs it. The CMO’s new role will include setting up knowledge management systems and instilling a culture that documents and shares successes as well as failures.

2. Push Decision-Making Out to the Front Lines

Back when marketing was simpler, CMOs could centralize teams, decision-making, execution and the overall marketing playbook. But the centralized model breaks down when confronted by the staggering number of individual decisions around messaging, creative, channels, marketing mix and more that modern marketers have to make across brands, products, segments and countries. Coca-Cola’s corporate marketing office, for example, can’t anticipate or dictate what mobile ads will work best in Bogota, Colombia.

What’s the answer? Decentralized decision-making paired with strong central guidance. Local marketing teams need to be able to rapidly test (experimentation and execution) and learn (data synthesis and analysis), supported by centrally managed guidelines and alignment tools that facilitate internal benchmarking and sharing of best practices.

Compelling research supports this approach. McKinsey surveyed 20 North American consumer-goods companies, and found that corporate marketing at the strongest-performing companies was primarily a center of excellence that shared information and best practices with line marketers.

At the weaker performers, corporate marketing spent more time doing global brand management, running centralized brand campaigns, and providing actual services like managing relationships with advertising agencies.

CMOs would do well to promote this sort of decentralized but loosely coupled marketing experimentation -- becoming champions of experimentation at the local level while simultaneously cultivating a strong centralized presence that provides best practices, guidance and tools.

3. Ditch Prescriptive Marketing for XPrize Marketing

Centralized marketing departments used to do their best to make brand-building formulaic. Traditional consumer packaged good brands, for instance, had product launch playbooks. The closer we followed the blueprint, the more success we’d have. If we spent X dollars in TV and Y dollars on radio, it would result in Z sales.

But the old formulas don’t work anymore, giving CMOs the opportunity to pioneer new marketing models. One idea is to create a marketing department that runs more like XPrize, an organization that challenges independent teams to solve big, audacious goals. XPrize rigorously defines the challenges and the criteria for success, then incentivizes people around the world to build effective solutions. XPrize is results-focused, yet solution-agnostic.

An XPrize-style CMO would inspire local teams with bold goals and clear KPIs -- criteria by which campaigns, product launches and evergreen efforts will be judged -- and then free those teams to meet marketing challenges creatively and independently, celebrating breakthroughs and sharing best practices quickly to elevate everyone’s performance.

4. Think Systematically

Let’s strengthen a point noted above: Near-autonomous teams innovating and making decisions on the fly will result in disaster unless we provide guidance and guardrails. In the new world of marketing, this is perhaps a CMO’s most important role. CMOs need to oversee the development of frameworks and tools that empower and align their various marketing centers -- data platforms, marketing performance measurement and reporting tools, planning tools, knowledge management portals and the like.

On the process side, CMOs should lead the charge by defining KPIs for marketing, overseeing the development of marketing scorecards, setting up a global marketing taxonomy, and standardizing campaign naming conventions and/or campaign IDs: the foundational efforts that align disparate teams and provide structure for innovation.

5. Foster Agile Marketing

Brands succeed or fail not on the decisions made once a year, like annual marketing mix models, but on the millions of tiny optimizations that marketing teams make every single day.

In a complex and dynamic environment -- the very definition of modern marketing -- speed, flexibility and agility are more important than perfection. CMOs can learn from the iterative approach of software development, where work happens in short, intense bursts interspersed by pauses to assimilate new priorities and new data.

Elevate team members who are comfortable in rapidly evolving spaces. Democratize the data. Pick tools that offer self-serve access to marketing performance data and analysis so that executional marketers can make better decisions on their own. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The CMO as Master Integrator

People talk all the time about the evolving complexity of marketing. We hear less about the implications for marketing’s organizational structure, processes and leadership.

But the KPIs for CMOs -- the criteria by which they’ll be judged -- are changing as well, and CMOs should welcome that development with open arms. This is the CMO’s new job description: Become the master integrator of the marketing function in all its modern complexity.