The hidden marketing minefield

A couple months ago, Coca-Cola axed their Chief Marketing Officer, and then eliminated the CMO role altogether, replacing it with what they call the Chief Growth Officer. While the Forbes article linked here indicates that was a mistake, the real mistake is generally in a company’s misunderstanding of the role of the marketing lead – and of marketing itself. Harvard Business Review hints at this in their latest issue, blaming poor job design, and thus distrust of CMOs by CEOs, for high turnover and short tenure in that position.

It’s not hard to see this root cause as I search for my next opportunity. Frequently, sales positions are listed as marketing opportunities in company job listings. While sales and marketing have to be aligned, they’re not the same function. I’ve been in organizations where marketing reported to sales, and some where sales reports to marketing. The best organization design – the one that understands the role of marketing – has them as colleagues.

Marketing leads, no matter how they’re titled, should be considered growth agents. They bear significant responsibility for decisions that should grow the business. They should be scanning the marketing landscape for trends, forecasting those trends, and using the four P’s of marketing to create strategies to create growth when those trends arrive. The marketing lead should advise the CEO regarding strategic directional changes in how the organization faces the market. Those changes can be dramatic, and sometimes resource-intensive. They impact the products offered, the prices charged for those products, how the company communicates about the products, and how the products are delivered.

Leading a marketing organization with those strategic responsibilities is a challenge – and a risk – the minefield of the title. In every strategic decision, you do what you can to mitigate the risks, but you never know with absolute certainly that the decisions you made will work the way you anticipated. Since many organizations truly don’t understand the role of marketing, failures in this area, rather than leading to course corrections, tend to lead to the exit.

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