Why CMOs Should Care About Agile Marketing
This article is based on Andrea’s forthcoming book, Mastering Marketing Agility (Berrett-Koehler, June 2020). When a CMO is hired, somewhere an hourglass flips over. Grains of sand begin plummeting from the upper half, piling up inexorably in the bottom until time runs out and the CMO is politely asked to leave. It’s a grim picture, and it turns out it’s not even a very big hourglass compared to those measuring out the lifespan of other executives. Recent data from executive placement firm Korn/Ferry revealed an average tenure of 3 years for CMOs, 2.3 years less than the C-suite in aggregate. While brutal, this high rate of churn isn’t completely surprising to those of us who have spent much time (more than 3 years, if the data is accurate) in the marketing profession. CMOs come and go with alarming frequency. Some enterprises don’t even have one anymore. But what’s the antidote to this executive merry go round? Turns out marketing agility can prevent constant CMO churn, while also making life less insane for everyone around the CMO too.
The Rise and Fall of the Non-Agile CMOHere’s how the CMO life cycle often goes: a CMO gets hired, then spends 60-90 days listening and learning (and stressing a whole department’s worth of people out by meeting with them one on one). Then they unveil their new Marketing Vision (complete with all caps, a huge PowerPoint presentation, and much fanfare). Chances are there’s a brand update and/or a website refresh early on the new roadmap. If the CMO’s super ambitious, there might even be both.
Scope Creep and Never-ending ProjectsWhile there’s technically nothing wrong with either of those tactics (if the timing and objectives are right), they represent some of the most amorphous projects out there. It’s often difficult to pin down thorny questions like:
- When are they done? Who decides? What if there’s disagreement?
- How do we measure the impact? How long before it will even be felt?
- Whose approval is necessary and at which stage? Are there limits on revisions, or do we just keep going until everyone agrees?
- What if sales/the CEO/our top customer hates it?
Everybody’s a MarketerBoth branding and website design are also highly subjective. It’s impossible to decide if a particular shade of blue makes us feel hopeful or optimistic, yet we’ll spend hours debating such un-provable questions during these types of projects. Combine these two factors with a less than ideal work management process, and it’s not surprising early CMO efforts take a really long time to get done. Then, of course, they take even longer to start showing quantifiable results. Add in the need to prove an actual return on investment (ROI), and it’s no wonder the CMO collapse imperils executives everywhere.
Enter Growth HackingWith this clock ticking loudly in their ears, CMOs start getting nervous around the two-year mark. They’re running low on sand in their hourglass, and they can feel it. Then the poor decision making begins in earnest. Their early efforts to shore up brand identity and push for long-term vision aren’t delivering, at least not in a way they can prove to the CFO, so they start to optimize for the near term. This newly myopic perspective is often compounded by the board and CEO, who have most likely been looking at quarterly results all along but have been giving the CMO “some wiggle room” during their early months. As the flailing continues, tactical quick wins get prioritized over long term strategy. In some cases, this flurry of activity will buy the CMO time, especially if they can growth hack their way to some significant flashy outcomes. But eventually the tactic well runs dry, the numbers flatten out, and, alas, the CMO moves along. If you’re a CMO or Vice President who’d like to write a different ending for yourself, you’ll be glad to know that marketing agility provides you with the roadmap you need to avoid this fate. When you get hired and the hourglass gets flipped, it could be counting down to your first big win, instead of your eventual demise.
Prime CMO Improvement: Speed of ReleaseAccording to McKinsey, marketing campaigns take an average of 8 months to be released. When we combine that pace with the 3 year CMO tenure (plus the obligatory 3 month listening period), that’s not friendly math. Faster speed to market is one of the primary benefits of agility, with successful Agile teams reporting triple-digit improvements in their ability to get stuff out the door. In marketing specifically 53% of Agile teams say they can change gears quickly based on feedback, 40% say they find roadblocks sooner, and 36% say they enjoy faster release schedules. So instead of releasing one or two huge, risky campaigns per year, an Agile CMO can release, learn, and iterate far more often. No need to pin all your hopes on the handful of campaigns that you can get done in your three-year stint.
Other Ways Agility Helps CMOsYou’ll notice in the chart above that while speed is a recurring theme, it’s not the only benefit that marketing agility confers. Agile marketing teams also enjoy happier people, less waste, and a great focus on two major marketing differentiators: customer focus and quality.
- Improves morale and decreases churn: Members of an Agile marketing organization feel more autonomy over their work. They enjoy a sense of purpose by aligning with larger goals. And they have the right to say “no” to interruptions and busy work that don’t align to those goals. All of this (and much, much more) makes Agile marketers the happiest of all marketers. They’re less likely to leave, and more likely to be fully engaged at work.
- Reduces waste system-wide: Because of its focus on visibility and transparency, Agile marketing groups see ways to reuse their colleagues’ work. There’s collaboration and joint efforts. Content doesn’t just get put in a DAM and never accessed again. All of this serves to cut down on the waste that otherwise plagues marketing systems.
- Improves customer focus and quality: The two unsung heroes of agility and customer focus and quality, both of which are crucial (but often overlooked) outcomes of a successful switch to Agile marketing. When we organize teams around the customer rather than function, and when we free marketers from the hamster wheel of never-ending order taking, we start to produce marketing that’s good enough to get noticed. It’s good enough to make a difference to our audience. And that’s where the magic really happens.