Why CMOs Also Have To Be Thought Leaders

CMOs are experts at promoting their companies' brands—but not always their own.

A handful of great CMOs in my community have lost their jobs. Why did it take almost a month for them to re-position themselves and generate interest from prospective employers? I think it’s because they have ignored the critical need to remain thought leaders in their own right, regardless of their employment status.

CMOs are experts at promoting their companies' brands—but not always their own. Studies have shown that fewer than 20% of Fortune 250 CMOs are on Twitter. Can you imagine launching an online strategy for your company without actively using any of the social technologies? It’s like discovering your nutritionist secretly lives on candy bars and fast food.

Dorie Clark, author of the newly released Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, argues that it's time for CMOs to take control of their professional reputation by putting themselves in the mix publicly. She offers three main reasons:

  • It's beneficial for a company's brand if individual executives within it have strong personal brands. That matters internally because people will know where their strengths and abilities lie, and can tap them. Externally, it matters because it sends a message that your company attracts and retains top talent and industry pundits.
  • Telling your own story is just as important as being able to tell your company's. Often, our internal image of what we're capable of and want to do doesn't match up with how others see us. We can begin to take control of our careers and reputations by creating narratives that explain how our existing skills can be applied in new, valuable ways.
  • Creating content is no longer optional for marketing leaders who want to be perceived as industry pacesetters. You have the ability—and the responsibility—to position yourself as a thought leader through multiple media outlets. The same principles you're applying at the corporate level to distinguish the company's brand should be applied to yourself.

Some might argue that CMOs should stay behind the scenes; doesn't time promoting themselves mean time away from their core mission to promote their company? Both efforts are actually symbiotic. Clark posits that "companies want talented, motivated executives who truly understand social tools." A CMO who deploys online and offline media effectively is an asset to the organization. They are likely to draw in both press coverage and new clients. They can often attribute their success to relationships she is able to cultivate online.

I have encountered several socially adept CMOs since launching my CMO peer groups and private gatherings. Interestingly, all are male. While many CMOs are active on Twitter, it seems like few are blogging and publishing substantial content.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, CMO of Mindjet, launched Marketing Iteration in 2009 to help establish social profiles for his entire executive team while he worked at a previous employer. He stayed the course, and still blogs regularly today. He says that "I savor the freedom to write about what is important to me, regardless of whether it is to discuss Mindjet’s brand, or to share things that are just interesting for me."

Charles Gold, CMO of Sonatype, publishes pithy observations and analysis on software marketing. Since 2010, Charles has enjoyed the benefits of maintaining a social persona. Although he launched his blog primarily to understand the mechanics behind it, he soon discovered many personal brand benefits. "My blog allows me to think through the meta-issues that affect me and my company. It has also led to marketing conference speaking engagements."

Thought leadership is every CMO’s responsibility. If you have not embraced that role, now is the time. Start with tweeting five minutes a day, and see what evolves. Twenty smart CMOs can’t be wrong.

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[Image: Flickr user Éamonn Ó Muirí]

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  • Kasu Venkateswara Reddy

    Except Marketing, all functional area, Materials, Manufacturing, HR and Finance are expenditure or Investment departments. for any organisations Marketing is the  only functional area, which generates revenue or financial resources. The CMO has to be visionary in forecasting all uncertainties and generate the required revenues from time to time and all the time to come in. Therefore I fully agree with the Brijj team that the CMOs are also thought leaders to any organisations.
    K V Reddy   

  • Cheryl Andrus

    Lisa, I enjoyed your article and have the pleasure to work with someone who has the charisma and ideas to do what you're saying. inContact CMO Mariann McDonagh is emerging as an important customer service and customer loyalty thought leader. It's great to work with her and see how others are so receptive to her ideas. She recently was honored at DMNews Hall of Femme. inContact is a leading cloud software provider for contact centers. Find out how Mariann leads the conversation  http://ow.ly/jMqm4 

  • Panteli Tritchew

    I agree with the main point, that CMOs should aim to be thought leaders. Clearly, that would promote their personal and corporate brand. It seems that there is a subtle conflation of two separate points in this post: that CMOs ought to be on SM, and that CMOs should aim to be thought leaders.

    One *can* be very active on SM without being a thought leader, but I do agree that one can't be a thought leader without some kind of SM branding strategy.

    Kind regards,

  • Lisa Nirell

     Panteli, very well said. I encourage my CMO clients to be provocateurs. 90 per cent of them MUST consider creating some social media presence. In older, more traditional industries (wood products, financial services, discrete manufacturing, etc.) they can still be provocateurs using offline channels. They need to consider where their audience spends time.  Thank you for your comments!

  • Dorothea Vanau

    The fact that Thomas, who named himself as Internet Marketing Icon, doesn't practically know what's a CMO speaks for itself. It goes without saying that marketing is not longer what we're used to know, but reputation management. Internet has left marketing far behind. CMO would turn into CRMO (for Reputation Management) or CDO (for Digital). The article is soo right. Pity we'd need years for marketing people to acknowledge that.

  • Lisa Nirell

    Dorothea, I lead communities of CMOs, both online and offline. In my experience, CMO is just a place holder. There is no single word that can define the perfect role for today's CMO. That's why I developed a grid that breaks down the role into many parts. Depending on the company culture and growth stage, a CMO can embrace and evolve into some, or all of these roles. You will find the model here:

    Thank you for sharing!

  • K.N.O.W.

    Hi Lisa,  What you say has a truth to it, to an extent.  A new phenomena is emerging in which too many people are trying to "brand themselves" as thought leaders by doing what you suggest, and as such, too many people are covering the same material.  It is, to a large part, self-serving, otherwise called narcissistic, as illustrated through studies highlighted in the following two articles:

    http://www.fastcompany.com/300....    http://www.fastcompany.com/139... Information overload will lead to only a small number of people with credibility on specific subjects.