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5 tips for mastering the complicated role of CMO

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The CMO role is constantly under fire, despite being one of the most exciting roles in the C-Suite with the greatest opportunity to drive both short and long-term company growth. The role is plagued by a lack of clear definition, misaligned expectations with counterparts, short tenures, and a bevy of responsibilities in emerging areas. On top of all that, CMOs are rarely given the same deference as other members of the C-Suite.

CMO is actually the most complicated of all C-Suite roles and requires the most discipline to serve the broadest range of stakeholders (Board, CEO, peers, employees, and customers) while building a fluid organization to accommodate needs that have yet to be uncovered and for which there are no blueprints. The role requires honed leadership skills, an appreciation for diversity, a mandate for inclusion, a relentless focus on talent development and the employee experience, an ego-less quest for innovation, a tolerance for risk, and the fortitude to fail forward.

To help CMOs succeed globally, the Association of National Advertisers released the CMO Talent Challenge Playbook this week, which I had the honor to author, working together with 30+ of the world’s top CMOs. Here are five takeaways from the playbook that every CMO should consider as they lead their teams:

1. Exercise your financial muscles. Do whatever it takes to ensure you and your team are able to translate your activities to the top and/or bottom line in the right language. Collaborate with your CEO and CFO to ensure you know what they need from you and then work together to ensure there is a consistent and accurate process in place to deliver on those expectations. This may require bringing in outside training professionals, or simply rolling up your sleeves with your CFO to create a marketing finance training program and cross-pollinate talent so marketing gets finance and vice versa.

2. Represent brand purpose and hold the line. When being pressured to only focus on short-term goals, you’ve got to make a case for not entirely pitching out the long-term, or you’ll be essentially sword fighting from that point on with one hand behind your back. The vicious circle of putting all your efforts into rapid acquisition or heavy promotions only to suffer substantial and unrecoverable retention and profit loses down the line will ensure a short tenure. Define brand purpose as the unifying fabric across the organization and with your customer. Stay true to brand purpose to guide both long- and short-term goals.

3. Culture is King. Period. There is a reason we’ve all heard the phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It’s true. Strategy is only a plan. Execution is contingent on inspiring a culture to mobilize. The only true way to do this is through authentic and emotional connectivity, otherwise you may force some short-term movement but will never earn full support. The best leaders are those who respect each coexisting culture for its unique needs and who are able to align the brand objectives to those needs so there is a collective charge based on a unified mission.

4. Before you invest in one more campaign, invest in your team, and yourself. Providing the right tools, training, and development opportunities for your entire team, including you, is essential for survival not just a nice-to-have. I’m not talking about technical skills – you’ll have a long list of those that will continuously evolve — but soft skills that will help everyone on your team tap into their true potential and work better together. These include things like how they communicate, influence, collaborate, and align. Getting a professional coach involved can help you articulate your leadership vision and then work with your team to help them align and work on their own specific needs. Furthermore, when adding new people to your team, focus on the As for success: Agility, Aptitude, and Attitude. You can always train the hard skills, but finding rock stars with the three As built-in is gold.

5. Everyone needs help, so ask for it. There are countless experts out there to help in every facet of your role. Don’t know where to start? Look to companies like Spencer Stuart who have been helping to build leaders for decades and have a variety of support tools available. Or leverage your peers via industry associations, like the ANA Masters Circle. And stay current through best practice coalitions, attending key events, collaborating with startups, and leveraging partners for best practices.

Nadine Dietz is founder of podcast series CMO Moves. She is author of the ANA CMO Talent Challenge Playbook, and was previously CMO of The CMO Club and a strategic advisor for VentureBeat.

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