In a World Where Brand Promise Means Everything, CMOs Need a Seat in the Boardroom

by Coco Brown, Athena Alliance Founder & CEO

In today’s business world, the way we engage our customers is more important than ever. This responsibility — of driving relevant, personalized interaction — traditionally falls to the chief marketing officer. While similar roles have sprouted in recent years, most notably roles such as chief customer experience officer and chief digital officer, the fundamentals of marketing still have a safe home in the digital era. In fact, I’d argue that driving brand relevance, dynamically adapting to the changing buyer and influencer landscape, and standing apart from competition in a (very) crowded marketplace may be more important than ever for business success.

For many businesses, this means chief marketing officers need to be in the boardroom.

The marketing role in the C-suite was sparked by change, so it’s fitting that the role has built a reputation for riding out waves of change in the business world: the rise of social media; the popularity of email and other digital communication; mobile marketing. It’s an ever-changing role, rooted in meeting the needs of an ever-changing customer base in a global market now ruled by emerging technologies. In other words, marketing is no small endeavor. It requires wild creativity, the ability to balance data with instinct, and an almost brash courage for trying new approaches. In the C-suite lineup, it is and always has been the Pioneer among its peers.

It’s also a revenue generator. According to Deloitte Insights, “One portfolio analysis shows that stocks of companies where a CMO is part of the top management team — often signaling a corporate-wide, customer-centric focus — netted shareholders significantly higher long-term returns than portfolios lacking CMO emphasis.”

As Lisa Campbell, CMO of Autodesk, explained, “CMOs bring a critical view of customers’ requirements and the business value of different segments of customers. They are expert in engaging digitally with customers throughout the entire customer journey to build stronger relationships, which results in better customer lifetime value.”

Let’s face it, consumers rule the world. The best businesses know this; they no longer speak “at” the public but “to” the public. Marketing is not just about sparking that first click or web purchase, it’s about crafting a lifelong brand relationship — one that revolves entirely around the marketplace (buyer, future buyer, influencer, etc.) It’s in this way that brands, when managed correctly, can extend far beyond on-point ads and become a major revenue-generating machine.

  • Brand affects buyer behavior: AdWeek reported that 91% of consumers will recommend a brand to friends if they feel it’s authentic.
  • Values mean everything: Consumers have become skeptics, especially the 80-million large Millennial generation, who will work for and buy from companies that they believe in. For them, the companies they purchase from should mirror their own personal values. But it’s not just Millennials. Edelman recently reported that 50% of consumers around the world now “buy based on their beliefs.”
  • Don’t underestimate the relationship. The brand relationship, that is. When customers feel taken advantage of, whether by a poor buying experience or a data hack, they’ll take to the Web to let everyone in their social circles know.
  • Stand apart from competition. The game has changed, and relevancy and timing of communication are key. According to one study by Accenture, “In the U.S. market alone, companies are losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough. Loyalty remains important, but this finding indicates that the future of marketing — and, in the big picture, many businesses — depends on serving a customer’s most relevant needs in the moment.”

Becky Saeger, a veteran CMO who currently sits on the board at E-Trade Financial, said, “Any company facing disruption, or planning to disrupt, will benefit from a CMO’s perspective at the Board table. Because disruption starts with identifying and meeting customer needs and pain points. This is what marketers do.”

No doubt, market disruption is an imperative for companies worldwide. Kate Bullis is Managing Partner at SEBA International, where she leads an executive search practice that specializes in CMO placements. Her firm is increasingly seeing a rise in demand for CMO representation at the board table. It’s not necessarily about diversifying for sex or race — for most companies, it’s about digitization, transformation, and brand.

“Every industry is being taken over by technology,” Bullis said. “The companies having the most challenges are those that were not born in the digital era. They’re getting eaten by a world of digital and software. Marketers, particularly those that come from tech, have very relevant experience.”

But, Bullis said, even companies that were born in the digital age are scrambling to gain a better understanding of their customers and brand. Many tech companies found success by being focused on product versus brand.

“But now, companies are realizing, your brand is just as important as your product, if not more so,” she said. Digital has changed the relationship with customers. Customers react immediately to changes in a brand’s values or product line — and they often do so publicly, to thousands of social media followers.

“The reality is, customers today have more power than ever,” she said. “Product comes and goes. Brands are forever.”

Despite the wide range of opportunities and threats coming at modern businesses, boardrooms have long been ruled by a standard group: older, white men with career backgrounds of CEOs and CFOs. But in today’s fast-changing world, ruled by technology and consumers, businesses with this antiquated board construct won’t — can’t — survive. By welcoming people onto the board with modern, diverse backgrounds, boards strengthen themselves through the power of diverse viewpoints and the ability to close the gaps on blind spots.

CMOs with a seat at the board table are in a unique position to take an enterprise-wide stance on marketing and brand. They’re able to evaluate messaging, brand promise, customer interactions, communication, and customer engagement. This has the power to change the conversation for a company at the highest levels of impact — by putting brand relevance in the front seat and driving customer-centric conversations about strategy.

“Organizations are seeking out ways to engage customers with messaging that better speaks to their needs and values, establishing an ongoing relationship rather than a transactional one. There’s likely no one better placed to lead this customer-centric charge than the CMO,” reported Deloitte Insider.

Organizations that truly put customers first must also put marketing first, and they can do this by giving marketing a voice in the boardroom — the Modern Boardroom, for businesses that want to secure their own relevance for decades to come.

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