Content Marketing
3 Common Leadership Mistakes CMOs Make

3 Common Leadership Mistakes CMOs Make

June 13, 2017
4 min read

The CMO role has always been viewed with a sense of both awe as well as some ‘I’m-glad-it’s-you-and-not-me’ mentality.

Sure, the role of chief marketing officer is designed for those who embrace complex challenges and are invigorated rather than broken down by stress. Those who sign up tend to value grit and the ability to get things done more than work-life balance and sleep.

Still, stepping into the office only to find that lasers are shooting at you from every direction does get tiresome eventually – for the CMOs that last that long, that is.

CMOs in the food industry, for example, seldom last more than a year. The automotive and healthcare industries are also notorious for short tenures. The modern corporate marketing head faces even more challenges than yesteryear’s superhero CMO.

Today, most CEOs expect their chief marketing officers to:

Despite the job difficulty, there are survivors. And some who excel in this role.

For CMOs struggling to master their universe, here are the pitfalls to watch out for. It is these common mistakes that make marketers cringe when a new chief comes aboard. Steer clear of these misunderstandings and oversights and see how much more empowered the CMO role can be.

Fear of Making Decisions

Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to get things right when the rest of the C-suite is expecting consistent, measurable revenue growth. Your marketing team have enough on their plates, weaving meaningful brand stories into your latest campaign and figuring out how to leverage your new CRM software. However, it is still important to make bold decisions and move forwards.

Afraid of making poor choices, some CMOs get caught in the trap of endless A/B testing and employee polls. This can muddy the decision making process rather than give you the clarity you’re after. The trick is to be calculating when it comes to mining for your data insights. Plan out your testing and view your metrics in terms of both short and long-term goals. Also, look at each test, poll, and survey as part of a greater whole. Watch how the numbers evolve. And, then balance your strategic data gathering with a continual flow of smart decisions.

No, you don’t need another A/B test to determine which email subject line, design theme or tagline will do. You already have dozens of metrics to use to help you make better marketing strategy decisions because you view your data holistically.

Talk Agility Without Actually Practicing It

Agile marketing is the methodology revolution that has allowed some brands to really rise up to the current pressures of digital marketing transformation. Take Netflix as an example. Led by CMO Kelly Bennett, Netflix is agility in motion. The company has created a magnificent customer feedback loop to inform their business decisions. Their marketers pay attention to what the customer is saying and doing, continually gathering this data, and then using it to facilitate an ongoing tweaking process of their services.

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The result? $2 billion in revenue a quarter. 85 million happy subscribers glued to their screens. A complete disruption of the cable television industry. And, a new Oxford entry. Binge-watching: a term used to describe polishing off your favorite Netflix series in one sitting.

No wonder your marketers want you to really take agile seriously. A study by McKinsey and the Association of National Advertisers found that as many as 70 percent of CMOs believe they employ agile marketing processes. That’s not what their marketing VPs and directors believe. Only 45 percent and 50 percent respectively agree. Of marketing teams, only 43 percent believe they are encouraged to take risks and experiment.

Agile is much more than a buzzword. It’s an essential method for empowering your team and for creating brilliant strategies. CMOs that really take the time to access resources on how to implement agile methods, experiment with it, and facilitate their team to go agile – all the way agile – are the ones who will unlock the true potential of their marketers.

Ignoring the 3,874 MarTech Tools Available Today

Editor of Scott Brinker created a dizzying supergraphic, identifying nearly 4,000 marketing technology tools. That’s 3,874 different tools with dozens in each subsector of modern marketing.

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Obviously, this doesn’t insinuate that CMOs should be bringing on every new piece of marketing technology. It does, however, mean they should, at least, explore tech for every facet of marketing.

Nathan Sinnott, CEO of Newpath WEB, cited a lack of urgency amongst CMOs and managers as the biggest obstacle to digital transformation. If you’re dragging your feet on MarTech, you’re only holding your marketers back. Start really diving into your brand’s digital potential by finding out where it would be most beneficial and then creating a plan to evolve. Talk to your managers and your team. Where do they believe the brand is falling behind?

  • Is it an outdated perception of marketing automation?
  • A limited social media or influencer strategy because data insights are lacking?
  • Could a software upgrade improve your brand’s lead generation?
  • Is it time to jump into in-house video content?

Make your transformation to a digitally-savvy marketing team an ongoing process. Bridge those skills gaps with training and new hires. And, keep the conversation going. MarTech will continue to evolve. You just have to keep evolving right there next to it.

Is Proactivity the Key to CMO Survival?

All three of these marketing CMO leadership mistakes point to an underlying theme – hesitation. Could today’s CMOs find more success through more action? Is a fear of failure and an inability to cope with the sheer breadth of the changes going on in marketing holding marketing leaders back?

If so, the solution lies in facing those fears. Not sure how to implement agile, pull off a full digital transformation, or even what campaign to approve for next month? The only way you’re going to get beyond hesitation is to jump.

There may be mistakes along the way. But for true marketing innovators, storytellers, disruptors, and integrators, every mistake is only one more experience to gain wisdom and become the CMO your marketers want to lead them.

2 thoughts on “3 Common Leadership Mistakes CMOs Make

  1. Aaron Lewis

    Great article! I really feel that some CMOs have become so hesitant to get traction for their marketing efforts that they forgot a lot of marketing is trial and error. Sure there’s countless tactics and strategies to implement however you still have to see if its successful with what you’re looking to accomplish.

  2. Michael Brenner

    Great point Aaron. Having permission to fail is so important. Making sure the team doesn’t make the same mistake twice and really truly learns from mistakes might be even harder.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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