Marketing Strategy
What CEOs Want from Marketing vs. What They Need to Know

What CEOs Want from Marketing vs. What They Need to Know

September 17, 2020
5 min read

What does your CEO think of your marketing team?

If you’re not sure how to respond, you should work on that relationship — especially if you’re the CMO. 

Marketers can fall easily into the trap of sticking to traditional roles like advertising and brand development. However, many C-suite executives now see marketing as a critical player in a company’s overall rise and expansion. You should, too.    

Consider what CEOs want from marketing before you push back. 

Quick Takeaways: 

  • Want to get a CEO on board with a marketing initiative? Prove its ROI and show metrics that will measure its success. 
  • CMOs need tangible support from engaged CEOs to continue to innovate and improve upon their marketing strategy. 
  • CEOs are interested in customer experience because it’s now a key differentiator. Thus, CMOs can no longer rely solely on conventional marketing wisdom.

Let’s talk about what CEOs expect from their marketing teams. And what CMOs can do to make that magic happen?

The Disconnect Between CEO Expectations and Marketing Performance

CEOs look at the big picture. Of course, they want marketing teams to focus on driving revenue growth. 

However, most CEOs don’t believe their CMOs have the business sense or leadership skills to deliver on this critical goal. According to a Fournaise study, more than 75% of CEOs don’t trust their current CMOs. 

About the same percentage of CMOs report dissatisfaction with their jobs. Most C-suite marketers believe their skills are underutilized and underestimated. Statistics point to CMOs becoming less influential compared to other C-suite executive positions. 

Only 17% of marketing chiefs have work environments that encourage a transformative approach to their job. This allows them to deliver both significant numbers and relevant customer experiences.

What’s at the heart of the massive disconnect? It’s usually a lack of clear communication between results-oriented CEOs and strategy-focused CMOs.  

When CEOs misunderstand the evolving role of CMOs, marketing teams can find themselves unaligned with the rest of the company. To be effective, CMOs must walk a fine line between listening to what CEOs want from marketing and giving them what they actually need. It helps to create a planning hierarchy, get buy-in from the CEO, and stick to it at all times.

marketing planning hierarchy

What CEOs Want from Marketing Departments and CMOs

I always like to talk about how CEOs typically look for what tactical production from CMOs, instead of marketing strategy ideas. CEOs expect marketing to deliver business results. But then they ask us to change the logo color, or put our logo on the side of a bus, a billboard, a sport’s stadium.

With those in mind, below are three things CEOs may demand from their marketing teams: investments they can quantify, new ways to achieve the same things, and consistent knowledge of what the customer wants. I call them the three C’s.

Clear ROI

CEOs that make decisions based only on empirically measurable returns can spell trouble for CMOs. However, it’s not a dead-end street. 

The fastest way to get CEOs on board with a marketing campaign is to prove its ROI and point to real business results. 

CMOs can build business cases to show how their ideas can provide significant value that they can account for through real numbers. Justify capital expenditures, predict future cash flows, and the like. Demonstrate how investing in marketing strategy will lead to increased revenues.

Constant Innovation

A recent study reports that almost 40% of marketers admit to having no actionable innovation strategy. About 25% believe the term has no clear definition. Why?  

CEOs with a visionary streak may expect their marketing departments to keep up with changing times effortlessly. However, they might not realize what’s needed to create and deliver innovations.

When pressed for results without ample resources, many CMOs might feel like they’re just reinventing the wheel. CEOs must realize that more perspiration does not equal more inspiration. 

True innovation is a must. 70% of consumers already depend on information from user reviews found online — not from brand blogs and advertisements. Conventional marketing wisdom must make way for this change. 

Pioneering CMOs are putting content marketing agencies to work, reimagining customer experiences, discovering new revenue streams, building unusual networks and partnerships, and more. 

Customer demands are changing more rapidly. Marketing strategy must change, too. 

Customer Insight

Did you know that customer experience is the future of marketing? In that future, content is king.

More than 50% of businesses identified the most significant challenge with customer journey management as the variety and volume of necessary content marketing.

CEOs know this, so they look for CMOs with a passion for knowing what customers want and how they make their decisions. 

It shouldn’t stop there, though. CEOs should do more than pay lip service to the importance of customer insight. After all, there are ways for enterprise content marketing strategies to deliver on expected ROI.  

The Conversation CMOs SHOULD Have With CEOs

Now that we know what CEOs want from marketing, let’s move on to what conversations CMOs need to be having.

I recommend that marketers put themselves in their CEO’s shoes. It’s easier said than done, but it works. 

I found myself thinking of what I would ask my CMO as a CEO. At the heart of these questions is the desire to create synergy, more than simply understanding each other’s perspectives.

1. Which Metrics Can Measure Results and Effectiveness of Marketing Efforts?

In the Fournaise study mentioned above, it also uncovered that most CEOs don’t believe that marketing defines ROI and results in the way they do.

CEOs and their CMOs should be on the same page. That starts with working with the same definitions, the same relevant metrics, and the same key objectives. Only when this is accomplished can marketing leaders hope to align their team’s strategy with company goals.

Marketing insights should guide this conversation. However, everyone involved should know exactly how the success of an initiative will be tracked and measured.

measure your marketing

2. How Does the Marketing Team Work With the Sales Team? 

Marketing and sales are intertwined but aren’t always in sync. Sales teams need to sit down with marketing teams to clarify definitions, too.

Does everyone in the company know the difference in expectations and roles between these two? This is essential. Companies that report a stable partnership between sales and marketing teams also report better customer retention and sales close rates. 

Without clear boundaries and areas of responsibility, CEOs can’t truly hold either team accountable for a failed initiative — or definitively congratulate them on a win. 

3. What Can the Company Do to Stand Out from the Crowd?

Traditional marketing in the olden days was more of a craft. CMOs could then work separately from other C-suite executives.

Technological advancements make it easier to collect and analyze data. They also make it more difficult to separate marketing plans from overall business strategy.

Most CEOs know in theory that CMOs should be counted on for market analytics and growth strategy. Who knows consumers more than CMOs do? However, it’s often easier for CEOs to ask for tactical campaigns and short-term wins than it is to heed their CMOs’ advice.

Why? It goes back to that disconnect — that lack of trust. Even though technology has made it possible for C-suite executives to all speak the same language, metrics-wise, many CEO-CMO relationships are still learning how to listen to each other and collaborate constructively.

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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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