many questions
How can we position our products and services to serve CMOs? PHOTO: Evan Dennis

"What do CMOs want?" 

I've heard this question repeatedly throughout my career — from agencies, vendors, clients and advisor organizations. I’ve even worked with clients who wondered what their CMO wants. 

The topic is a perennial favorite of the list post. You know someone is adding a to-do right now — write first draft, "Top 10 Things a CMO Wants for the Holidays." 

But I want to take a deeper a look at what CMOs want so that we might better position our products and services to meet their needs.

A CMO Is Not a Persona

I give the same answer whenever asked about any sort of audience profiling, segmentations or personas: do the research.  

Yes, you may be standing at the whiteboard, discussing your target audience with CMO writ large and underlined. But a CMO is not a persona, it does not describe an individual buying behavior or something you can grasp to craft messaging that will resonate with your target CMO. 

Some CMOs are conservative by nature. Some are conservative because of their industry. Some need to deliver a CEO’s vision of lead generation and some are freer to plough their own furrow. Some want award-winning work to propel their career forward and some want to play it safe. 

So where do we start? 

First Question: What Does the CEO Want?

The first question to ask is: what does the CEO want from our target CMO? What levers are pulling and pushing the behavior of our target persona? 

For the purposes of this article, it's fair to assume that the CEO wants growth — to increase the value of the company, the revenue, the profits, the share price or in the case of a government or charity organization, the number of people the organization helps. 

If our story, product or service can appeal to those things, then we are already making life better for our CMO, as the CEO is looking to the CMO to fuel growth through awareness and credibility.

Start With Business Objectives

We can agree most organizations are interested in growth, but as we try to zero in on our target CMO, what specific business objectives or awareness objectives do they have? 

  • The CMO of a well-funded start-up that produces the next best solution to the next big thing will be focused on awareness in the broadest sense 
  • The CMO of a mature software company will probably be focused on awareness at a target account and individual level (new business leads)
  • The CMO of a turnaround or rebranding could be focused on awareness and retention of the existing customer base

As you can imagine, even in these crude examples, the buying behavior and messaging that these CMOs would respond to are very different. Your research into your target CMO persona should consider the overarching business objectives that will drive them.  

The CMO Owns the Promise, Not the Experience

In order to build the awareness and credibility that the business demands, CMOs must work within the parameters of their brand's perception. 

Consumers define the brand. The brand rests in the space between an organization's promises and a consumer's experience. 

The CMO is tasked with managing the gap between the aspirations and the reality. And it comes down to building credibility so that the consumer believes the brand story. 

Although two parameters are involved — the brand promise and the experience of the products or services — the CMO may not be the target for your customer experience story. 

CMOs know that a good customer experience creates advocacy. And most will understand the high value of advocacy in today’s digital connected world. But the CMO in most organizations is not individually responsible for it, in many cases they may not even be able to affect it. 

They contribute to the experience of the brand, but their first concern is growing awareness and credibility — perhaps to offset a gap between the brand promise and their customer reality. 

You need to address this pain. Your customer experience story may provide air cover — but what’s in it for them?

Answer the Why and the How

At it’s very broadest, the product or service story we tell the CMO needs to answer the “Why you” with “because we will deliver growth to the organization” and the “How will you do that” with “we will help you deliver awareness and credibility.” 

Of course your answers will speak more specifically to your target CMO, and address their specific business needs. 

But at the end of the day, I think that’s what CMOs want.