Are CMOs Going Extinct?

CMOs must adapt or die in today's social media-driven marketing world, according to strategic marketing consultant Lisa Nirell, president of Energize Growth. In an article that first appeared in Fast Company earlier this year, Nirell wrote, "CMOs are struggling with seismic market shifts that threaten their careers."

(For a counter view, see the Forbes blog, "Why the CMO Role Is Not Facing Extinction." The blog also contains a link to a report on the American Management Association website, called "The CMO and the Future of Marketing.") It's all good for thought as chief marketing officers and brand managers redefine their roles on several levels. And finally, in case you missed it, Forbes has a blog site called the CMO Network, which gathers articles from many sources on the changing role of the chief marketing officer.)

In her article, which also appears on her website, Nirell cites the following reasons CMOs had better begin some quick soul-searching if they want to survive. In edited excerpts from the original article, she writes:

  1. Budgets are shifting. Gartner Group predicts that CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs within the next five years. Lines of responsibility have blurred across these organizations. CMOs can no longer rely solely on their creative and business generalist abilities.
  2. Social media exacerbates cross-departmental and customer tensions. Changing cultural and B2B buying norms, fueled by social media and democratized information, have caused unprecedented departmental tensions and trust issues. They are driving CMOs to shift from pushing their ideas to listening more proactively to their ever-expanding community.
  3. The democratized web spawns confusion and trust issues. Today, everyone can become a blogger and an expert in their field. I saw this trend take shape in 2002, when masses of displaced executives became coaches. All they needed to do was sell their services and launch a website to qualify. The same pattern has emerged with the "social media expert" movement. Who can you trust, and who are the real experts in your field?
  4. Pressure to demonstrate a return on investment with marketing has reached a fever pitch. During a recent CMO in Washington, D.C., the CMO of a large nonprofit told me that he lamented the cost and challenges associated with measuring marketing ROI. When he needs approval for key initiatives from the CEO, she demands facts and figures. He cannot always prove the return on their marketing investments in the short term. Many new CMO initiatives are entering uncharted territory.
  5. Lines of responsibility across marketing sales are disintegrating. While interviewing the CEO of a fast-growing marketing consultancy, which boasts 500 clients, I learned that 48 percent of their B2B CMO clients now carry a quota - and that number is growing. IBM and GE Solutions are also starting to assign quotas to marketing. In a recent issue of Marketing Week, Neil Rackham explains that "GE Solutions has split its marketing into 'upstream' and 'downstream' groups. The upstream group focuses on product development, and the downstream group focuses on working with the sales teams."

Nirell also met privately with dozens of CMOs to learn how they are addressing these major shifts. Here's what she had to say about that:

"Their biggest frustration is their inability to win the hearts and minds of the C-suite. I believe their current perceived role is limiting them from reaching their true potential. When I reflect on the traditionally sought-after competencies for a CMO, an image of 'order taker and service provider' emerges. Unfortunately, that perception has three limitations: it has become outdated, if not extinct; it restricts marketing's true potential; and finally, it perpetuates the belief that anyone can be a marketing expert."

In response, she designed what she calls a "more contemporary set of criteria for CMOs" that includes a list of what she calls "Old CMO Competencies" and "New CMO competencies" - in other words, what CMOs must do to survive.

Summing up, she says, "CMOs are at a crossroads. Will they choose the path of least resistance (status quo), or embrace the role of revenue pioneers? Their choice will either accelerate or bury a company's business strategy growth plan."

Lisa Nirell is the author of "EnergizeGrowth NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company." She has been helping B2B leaders drive sustainable growth by focusing on their customers and core values since 1998. Contact her at 703-888-1280 or To receive a free chapter of her book, or to schedule a 20-minute CMO strategy session, visit her website and register for her free newsletter, EnergizeNews.

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