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Four types of CMOs... Which is in your business?

27 Jun 2014

A lot is said these days about the CMO’s preparedness to navigate what is, even by most conservative measures, fairly extraordinary digital change.

Today, the CMO is expected to meet the connected consumer on a self-directed buying journey with compelling, relevant and resonant offers and experiences.

That’s no small task.

Last year, I wrote “The Rise of the Digital CMO” to take a closer look at whether the CMO is ready. The conclusion? Today, there’s a conspicuous gap between expertise and authority: digital natives have the former; CMOs have the latter.

The gap is often bridged with a variety of new senior roles—like the chief marketing technologist, for example.

This post led to an ongoing Gartner research series that seeks to codify what makes digital CMOs different and finding real-life exemplars to illustrate these principles put to practice.

To make sense of this evolving role, I’ve also been giving thought to CMO archetypes, a system of classification that helps identify the biases and traits of different types of marketing leadership.

Here, the goal is to use classifications to guide self identification, where traits and characteristics help CMOs find their power centers, their flex zones and their areas of conspicuous weakness.

Start by reviewing Gartner’s Intelligent Brand Framework, which defines the four disciplines of the modern marketing organisation:

Next, look in the mirror.

If you recall, the goal of the Intelligent Brand Framework was to promote “whole-brain” thinking, encouraging a balanced view of the skills required for modern marketing organizations and counteracting the myopic tendencies that are so common in the age of shiny, bright and new.

The truth is that the Intelligent Brand Framework applies to both organisations and individuals.

After all, it reasonably follows that any measure of the traits and biases of an organisation probably also roughly translates to the traits and biases of the leader his or herself.

Therefore, let me propose four types of CMOs, based on this same classification:

1. Observation— this CMO is led by the voice of the customer, going to extraordinary lengths to understand their patterns and preferences.

Above all else, they’re biased to believe that all truths come from this domain. This type of customer centricity can yield powerful insights and alignment with a target buyer, but it can also create a sort of myopia.

Henry Ford may or may not have said that, had he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him “faster horses.” It turns out that most customers aren’t all that visionary.

Find this CMO: Leading a focus group.

2. Inspiration—this CMO is a natural visionary, energized and directed by the universe of possibility that they conjure up in their own dreams (or hallucinations, as the case may be) and cultivate from crowds of customers, employees and other communities in their midst.

This CMO rarely meets a challenge with a conventional solution. While continuous innovation can be a reliable source for sustainable competitive advantage, innovation for its own sake does not a profit make. Marketers must also become scale operators with an eye on the prize of repeatability.

Find this CMO: Impatiently challenging dogma.

3. Automation—this CMO is the exact opposite, focusing on operational efficiency to create a machine that drives predictable and repeatable growth. Often identified as a performance marketer, this CMO uses data and measurement as a precision weapon and automation as the robots to carry out his or her duties.

This CMO is the CFOs best friend until strategies run their course. As innovations grow stale, operational excellence yields diminishing returns.

Find this CMO: Closing the loop on marketing spend.

4. Engagement—this CMO is a natural storyteller and, at root, a highly social animal. He or she finds energy in human relationships, online and offline, in person and at scale.

Here, the goal is to build affinity based on authentic dialogues that create trust and shared values. The goal, of course, is to turn this affinity into loyalty and advocacy that return appreciable business value over time.

Despite the undeniable human virtues of this approach, when over played, it can be construed as pandering and it’s sometimes too abstracted from the actual goal of ringing the cash register.

Find this CMO: Tweeting at the speed of thought.

The best CMOs aspire to embody each of these classifications. But in navigating a path for personal growth, it’s useful to start with a view for where you are and what you want to become.

By Jake Sorofman - Analyst, Gartner