CMOs are awash in data and tools for analyzing it. In fact, the “science” is, in part, a reason why CMOs are staying longer in their roles.
Notably, CMOs’ ability to properly leverage digital tools and analytics to enhance business value was found to be a factor in their longer tenure—now at 48 months for CMOs of leading U.S. consumer brand companies, according to Tom Seclow, who leads the Marketing Officer Practice at Spencer Stuart.
But a singularly data-driven mind-set isn’t the only key to successful CMO leadership. The art of marketing is also essential, according to the recently released “2015 CMO Impact Study.”
So what kind of leader can balance both sides?
The kind who knows how to hire the right people: those who complement his or her strengths and weaknesses.
“There’s a push toward being data-driven [in marketing], and many of the people who became CMOs were not schooled in that sort of tradition. If you think about that challenge, the CMO doesn't have to be the authority and shouldn't even try to be the authority, but needs to be a real leader and manager,” said David Reibstein, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and former chairman of the American Marketing Association.
Kimberly A. Whitler, a former CMO who has managed diverse teams within marketing organizations, agreed. “As a leader you need to understand that you need to value what you’re not good at. You need to think beyond your own skill set,” said Whitler, who is now assistant professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, and also author of the “2015 CMO Impact Study.”
Indeed, knowing--and accepting--your strengths and weaknesses is key.
“I think a CMO with great data tools can be competent, but without the art [of marketing] they can’t excel or have a competitive edge,” said executive recruiter Nick Corcodilos, who writes CMO.com’s weekly Ask The Headhunter blog. “There are a lot of CMOs that are good at massaging the data, but it’s not sufficient. Without the art behind it, you’re never going to be a great CMO.”
|Collaboration is critical, said Raja Rajamannar, CMO of MasterCard.|
But hiring is not enough. One “real leader,” MasterCard CMO Raja Rajamannar, told CMO.com that he sees himself as one who first and foremost enables, coaches, and empowers his team. “I believe in collaboration, whether it’s within marketing or between marketing and the rest of the company, or within MasterCard and outside partners,” he said. “I find collaborations are extremely critical.”
The ability to collaborate involves, of course, stellar listening skills. “I think part of it is being a good listener, a good negotiator, and someone who’s not overly rigid,” Reibstein said. “Things change at such a rapid pace that CMOs need to be adaptable. ... It's about being willing to challenge our mental models, and that leads back to being adaptable.”
Samantha Skey, CMO and chief revenue officer of women’s lifestyle media brand SheKnowsMedia, said she takes an open approach: “I’m happy to argue with every rank and level of the company,” she told CMO.com. “I love nothing better than someone who will argue with me.”
That’s exactly the manner advocated by Michelle Greenwald, marketing professor at Columbia Business School, and founder and CEO of Inventours, an immersion program for global executives. “Part of it is finding exceptional talent and motivating people to not try to please you, but giving them creative license and listening to them,” she told CMO.com.
According to Whitler, the most effective leaders are CMOs who use data to improve creative. Along the same lines, Reibstein said CMOs need to be adaptive and open to “empiricizing” the creative side. “CMOs need to do A/B testing on creative to not only fail fast, but succeed fast,” he said.
As a former executive at Disney, Pepsi-Cola, and JWT, Greenwald said she did plenty of testing. Still, marketing always has an element of unpredictability, despite all of the data and testing: “You still can’t always tell whether a product or campaign will succeed,” she cautioned. “It’s easier to do A/B testing on the Web site or to do an email campaign with last-click attribution” than it is for emotionally driven creative.
In the end, CMOs must realize that they face a unique challenge relative to their C-level peers: They don’t have just one type of person reporting to them. “There are very few roles, apart from the CEO and CMO, where you have such a diversity of personality types and work styles that you manage,” Greenwald said.
As a result, CMOs need to be more versatile and flexible in their leadership styles and adapt to the needs of their teams, Whitler added. “The way you lead and inspire a data-driven person is very different than the way you lead and inspire a creative person,” she said.
Differences must be respected, too.
“I commonly see that highly quantitative, analytical CMOs dismiss the difficulty and challenge in creating breakthrough creative that changes consumer behavior. They dismiss how hard that job is. Changing someone’s beliefs and behavior is often harder than analyzing data,” Whitler said. “If you’re going to be a great leader, you need to respect the breadth of what it takes to deliver world-class marketing capabilities.”
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