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What Next for the CMO?

In the U.S., the average tenure for a CMO is roughly 23 months. In the U.K., it is even shorter. Al Ries states over at AdAge that of all the firms in the Fortune 1000, only 7% of the most highly paid executives have marketing in their job title, and only 15% of those same firms even have a senior level marketing position, such as CMO.

In the U.S., the average tenure for a CMO is roughly 23 months. In the U.K., it is even shorter. Al Ries states over at AdAge that of all the firms in the Fortune 1000, only 7% of the most highly paid executives have marketing in their job title, and only 15% of those same firms even have a senior level marketing position, such as CMO.

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When we consider that commoditization, not just of brands, but of entire industries has never happened faster or with greater impact, we know that something is wrong. Surely marketing exists to fight such commoditization and help the business find continued competitive advantage amongst the constituency it serves? It should perhaps, but often it doesn’t actually deliver.

There are many reasons for this, including a fundamental lack of respect in many corporations, but one reason lies closer to home: specifically with how marketers have chosen to define themselves.

Ask many marketers what a marketer is and they will tell you a “communications professional.” Someone whose role is to understand the most effective way of communicating the brand, the product or the service and (increasingly) generating effective results from communications in ROI terms.

Unfortunately, the challenge when you define yourself as a communications professional is that you are also defining what you are not: Rather than shaping the offer, you shape the way the offer is communicated. Rather than defining the experience, you get to communicate the experience. Rather than driving the proposition, you get to advertise the proposition.

This somewhat self-defined role–not as a part of the business, but as a part of the communication of the business will be a key issue as we move forward. It’s becoming a basic truth that consumers are choosing to trust each other much more than they trust what brands have to say. They’re also choosing to talk about what brands are doing for them (or not doing for them) rather than what they are saying to them.

In a nutshell, marketing communications is not just becoming more fragmented and “noisy,” but fundamentally less influential–a worrying proposition for any communications professional with ROI targets to meet.

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As we move forward, many marketers will need to re-think their own roles.

Fundamentally, they will need to begin thinking of themselves less as communications professionals, and more as differentiation professionals. People whose focus is on creating experiences that demonstrate difference. People who care less about the mechanics of communication, and more on connecting the unique capabilities of the corporation to the perhaps hidden needs of the consumer.

This will require marketers who can truly use both sides of their brain–on the one hand fluent in the language of business, and deeply connected to the decision-making frameworks of that business. On the other hand, fluent in the language of customer, and driving the kinds of innovations that will lead this customer.

Those marketers who can demonstrate this will not be the sometimes disposable, sometimes disconnected executives we see today, but crucial drivers of business performance and innovation–the indispensable glue that connects the consumer to the business.

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Read more of Paul Worthington’s blog

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Paul Worthington

Paul Worthington is head of Strategy for the New York office of Wolff Olins, a global brand and innovation consultancy. You can find both Paul (@pworthington) and Wolff Olins (@wolffolins) on Twitter.

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