15 Years

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I just re-read The Economist‘s "Future Tense: The Global CMO" survey from late last year.  And I’m not encouraged that there’s even a future for the job description.

The report reflected results from a survey of 250+ senior marketing execs around the world, so it’s far more of a snapshot of the present than an insight into what the future might reveal. EIU.com normally studies countries and other substantive subjects; this report was sponsored by Google, which has an obvious interest in what CMOs think they’re supposed to be doing.

To its credit, the report doesn’t extrapolate or wax poetic on the responses, but rather summarizes them, like when it repeats the buzzword-impaired sentiments of some interviewees that CMOs move into "…a more ‘transformative’ role across the enterprise, driving innovation through the business and becoming evangelists of customer engagement."

This leaves the poetic waxing possibilities to people like me.  🙂

So when I read the major conclusions of the study, I couldn’t help but imagine what the CMOs were really saying:

What they said: Centralization is more important than localization.

What they really said: We want control so we can preserve our jobs.

The language they use to talk about brands (strategy and delivery) is still frighteningly 20th Century, even as they doff their virtual hats to digital marketing and conversational media. An overwhelming majority of them think that local — the step between brilliant ideas and consumers in Mumbai or Des Moines — is an executional step…just details on the back-end of global thinking. They think this isn’t going to change anytime soon, when of course it already has happened.

What they said: Conferences/events are the most important marketing activity.

What they really said: These gigs are where I can showcase my accomplishments to would-be employers.

Again, the PC terms of online/digital whatever are repeated as useful channels, but since the definitions of brands are still 1) centralized, 2) based on ideas, not actions, then marketing activities remain distinctly tactical, static and inert; a two-way conversation that prompts no behavior isn’t any better than a one-way pitch that failed the same way.

What they said: Brand-building is far more important than customer acquisition, lead generation, cross-selling, or customer retention.

What they really said: We don’t understand that true nature of the change that has occurred in our world, or in our companies.

All those messy operational things that constitute how a business functions are where brands emerge, are validated, and are subsequently grown (or damaged). Marketing’s role in that evolution decreases with every day that a CMO focuses on talking about branding. Combined with points 1 & 2, they don’t see empowering the folks on the ground responsible for maintaining the brands to do anything about it…yet it’s "the most important thing?"

What they said: The most important ROI for media campaigns is awareness surveys (just as important as sales/revenue results).

What they really said: We want to keep our options open on how we measure success, so we can do a better job at Point # 2.

I understand the predicament those CMOs feel they’re in: the world is changing, and their primary job is to keep their jobs. But this report reveals a vision of the future that’s identical to that of today, only with more blinking lights and less specificity of how exactly marketing will contribute to things other than innovation. They use really vague, mushy concepts to describe a world wherein everything is so digitally rendered.

My gut tells me that the big observation would be to acknowledge that marketing, as a stand-alone function, might be going the way of the dinosaur, and that its subject matter expertise is already being distributed throughout, and by, the entire enterprise.

"Future Tense: The Global CEO" states that the CMO title barely existed 15 years ago. Maybe it’s a transitional role that won’t even exist 15 years from now?

The Bulb Asks:

  • Is what people do with your brand more important than what you say about it?
  • How is the idea of "control" translated into reality? What does marketing really control?
  • Aren’t there marketers/marketing activities already embedded in every department?

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/07/15-years.html