How to Bridge the Gap Between CEOs and CMOs

Matt Williams explains the gap between CEOs and CMOs, and shares three ways how CMOs can bridge the gap.

The Gap Between CEO and CMO

CEOs and CMOs are not seeing eye to eye.

A recent McKinsey study, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, revealed a stark disparity in perspectives between these two pivotal C-suite roles. According to the study, 90 percent of CEOs believe that the role of marketing is clearly defined at their companies, yet only 22 percent of CMOs agree.

But the misalignment doesn't end there.

When asked about their marketing department's primary responsibilities, only 50 percent of CEOs provided the same answers as their own company's CMOs. 

So, what's really going on here?

The CEO's Misunderstanding of Marketing

While there are exceptions, most CEOs come from finance or operations backgrounds. 

In fact, the study found that only 10 percent of CEOs at Fortune 250 companies have ever worked in marketing. This means that when it comes to marketing, CEOs are often navigating uncharted waters, leading to misunderstandings about marketing’s role in achieving a company’s objectives.

The Evolution of Marketing

Another contributing factor is marketing’s rapid evolution.

Traditionally, CEOs were asked to review TV commercials and billboards in the boardroom. So while the CMO still had to keep the CEO abreast of their strategic activities, the tactics were largely familiar. No longer. Today, the marketing landscape has drastically changed. New tactics like TikTok and programmatic, and their strategic roles, are completely foreign to most CEOs.

Focusing on Different Metrics

Additionally, CEOs find marketing metrics to be frustratingly fuzzy and/or disconnected from the business.

It’s the CMO’s responsibility to reinforce the importance of “softer” measures like awareness and attitudes, and to establish the link between day-to-day metrics like email open and click-through rates and topline growth. Establishing those connections can help avoid misunderstandings, miscommunication, and unreasonable expectations from both parties.

3 Ways CMOs Can Bridge the Gap with Their CEOs

The question remains: how can CMOs and CEOs bridge this gap to foster a more productive and aligned working relationship?

Here are some strategies to consider:

How to Bridge the Gap with CEOs and CMOs

Improve Communication

One crucial step is to improve communication between the CMOs and CEO so the top exec understands how marketing is continually contributing to the business.

Highlight the strategic significance of marketing efforts and the rigor that goes into them. Continuously demonstrating the strategic foundation and dynamism of your marketing to the CEO will help ensure that the function is better understood and valued. 

Educate Your CEO About Modern Marketing

The CMO should take on the role of educator, helping their CEO understand the scope and impact of modern marketing.

CMOs don’t have to tell their CEOs about what’s viral right now on TikTok, but CEOs need to be aware of how the marketing team is using the latest technology to stay ahead of the competition and contribute to growth in new and innovative ways.

Connect Marketing to Relevant Metrics

While not everything in marketing can be directly tied to earnings, it's essential to connect marketing efforts to metrics that matter to the CEO.

This could include social impressions, white paper downloads, most viewed blog posts, awareness and perceptual shifts, share of voice, etc. Your CEO is smart enough to understand that not everything we do has a one-to-one connection to the bottom line, but you have to explain how each effort relates to the company’s goals. And even if you can’t directly connect your measurement criteria to profits, you MUST set clear performance goals and measure everything you do.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to marketing, CEOs come in all shapes and sizes. Some instinctively grasp the role of marketing in driving company growth, while others struggle to understand it.

The responsibility lies with CMOs to bridge the gap. By communicating, educating, and connecting to the business metrics the CEO cares about, CMOs can ensure that the boss sees marketing as vital and valuable.

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