A fascinating new study from McKinsey & Company says 83 percent of CEOs believe marketing can be a major growth driver, but 23 percent don’t feel marketing is delivering on that agenda. The study identifies three CMO archetypes:

  • The Unifier, who builds strong partnerships with the CEO and C-suite peers to drive growth (24 percent of CMOs, according to McKinsey)
  • The Loner, who has a limited relationship with the C-suite and focuses primarily on marketing communications (27 percent)
  • The Friend, who falls somewhere in between, with a good CEO relationship but limited responsibility for growth and customer experience (49 percent)

Not surprisingly, McKinsey finds Unifier CMOs are more successful, lasting 48 percent longer on the job and avoiding budget cuts during downturns.

Why wouldn’t all CMOs aspire to be Unifiers? Personality, vision and experience all could be constraints, but the biggest barrier is something the study only hints at.

Aspiring Unifier CMOs need to consider the capacity of the company and its C-suite to accept a senior marketing leader in this role. Will the CEO and her senior team (CFO, CHRO, CTO, etc.) embrace the Unifier CMO who seeks to build a shared vision for marketing as a driver of growth across the customer journey – or reject the would-be Unifier like a transplanted organ attacked by corporate antibodies?

Search and consulting firm SpencerStuart, which tracks CMO tenure across many industries, reported that as of early 2018, “an unusually high number of well-known brands … have undergone a change in the top marketing role.” This phenomenon may be explained by the gap between CEO expectations for marketing and perceptions of performance found by McKinsey.

Although SpencerStuart says average CMO tenure rose to 44 months in its study’s most recent year, the role remains a volatile one. Mergers and acquisitions, turnover at the CEO level and the influence of private equity in driving change are among the factors cited by SpencerStuart, and we’ve seen these trends impact CMOs in our own work with companies and brands.

My takeaway for CMOs: Don’t be a Loner; be a Unifier if you can, and otherwise be a Friend; and beware of corporate antibodies that could shorten your tenure, whatever archetype you choose.