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The transformative CMO Three must-have competencies to meet the growing demands placed on marketing leaders By Caren Fleit and Brigitte Morel-Curran

March 2012 Chief Marketing Officers increasingly are taking on enterprise-wide transformation. Through interviews and research, Korn/Ferry has identified the three competencies most essential for success in this expanding role: Creating the New and Different, Focusing on Actions and Outcomes, and Inspiring Others.

As organizations strive to set themselves apart from competitors, marketing has taken on new prominence throughout the business process. The days when marketing simply built brands, created above-the-line programs, and targeted customers are over. Now marketing—and more specifically the office of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)—is transforming how business is done. As a result, today’s top-flight and aspiring CMOs need new competencies to thrive in this expanded role. CMOs must move well beyond the longstanding role as “the voice of the customer” to provide strategic leadership, drive change, and achieve quantifiable business results. Today they are tasked with not only ownership of the brand, but also with development of overarching business strategies. For example, one $4 billion retailer recently charged its new CMO with a 360-degree effort to rethink everything related to customer needs: products, operations, supply chains, store locations, and how the company communicated internally and to customers. All the while, CEOs and corporate boards are scrutinizing marketing activities with unprecedented analytical intensity. In short, the mandate for today’s CMOs is nothing less than fundamental business transformation. “Marketing is increasingly intertwined with all other functions in the company. CMOs need strong leadership skills to influence across the organization, cross functionally, and geographically,”

says Lauri Kien Kotcher, CMO of Godiva. “We need to be able to adapt our plans based on rapid-fire feedback; this means moving together as an organization to drive results.” Marketing executives have always leveraged their creative, analytic, and tactical skills. What is changing is the growing complexity of the business environment, the communication landscape, the consumer and customer expectations, and the innovation cycle. As a result, companies looking for a truly successful and transformative CMO, and marketing executives who aspire to be CMOs, must focus on acquiring three core competencies: Creating the New and Different: The ability to generate new ideas and breakthroughs requires vision, creativity, and broad interests and knowledge. But leaders must also be able to speculate about alternatives, manage the innovation process and teams, and bring those ideas to market. Focusing on Action and Outcomes: Transformative CMOs must possess the potent combination of attacking everything with energy—while also keeping an eye on the bottom line. They must be unafraid to initiate action based on incomplete data, then drive to the finish and honestly assess results. Inspiring Others: Building motivated, high-performing teams—or even moving an entire organization to perform at a higher level—demands a compelling vision, commitment, and superior communication. These leaders also must understand what motivates different individuals. These competencies, drawn from a list of sixty-seven defined in the Leadership Architect® library, were identified through research conducted by Korn/Ferry International’s Marketing Center of Expertise. Not everyone inherently possesses these competencies; even those who do possess them develop and improve them with each job assignment. Likewise, marketing executives with a level of self-awareness and humility can indeed develop them. The following sections discuss each competency, how it manifests in CMOs, and how it can be developed.


Why competencies? At the core of the transformative CMO is a set of behavioral and cultural competencies—that is, measurable characteristics that relate to success. A competency may be a behavioral skill; a technical skill; an attribute, such as intelligence; or an attitude, such as optimism. Research conducted at several universities and tested in long-term studies involving large corporations indicates that individuals who master the key competencies identified for a given role tend to be high performers. Korn/Ferry International uses a proprietary library of sixty-seven competencies called The Leadership Architect®, developed by Lominger International, and these competencies are integrated into search assessments, 360-degree performance assessments, and interview guides.

Creating the New and Different Transformative CMOs push the boundaries of marketing with breakthrough thinking. Working with this type of blank slate is a challenge that requires curiosity, foresight, visionary thinking, mental agility, courage, and perseverance. Those who create the new and different strike a balance between marketing as an art and marketing as a science. “If you apply everything by the letter, getting caught into your own frameworks, repeating models without having the courage to be true to a vision and have a point of view, then you end up fundamentally doing the same thing as everybody else,” says Marc Mathieu, senior vice president of marketing The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the at Unilever. In his view, CMOs need unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world a strong personal desire to make a mark, not just manage. “These are to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the the restless souls who don’t just unreasonable man. want the right to have input, but — George Bernard Shaw desire to have impact. These are people with a sparkle in the eye, passion in the heart, a belief that they can change the world, and a great team and collaborative spirit. You need this attitude to overcome the many barriers you encounter in creating the new and different. Creating the new is very hard work.”


“ Innovation can be across product design, the service experience, the use of channels. We are looking for a fresh take on the game. We look to be strategically bold by focusing on breakout moves rather than incrementalism. There is a growing appetite for innovation, at a faster pace.” Peter Horst

Chief Marketing Officer, Capital One Bank

It is also a particularly valued competency for organizations that want to achieve market leadership. They need innovative thinking to use macroeconomic trends, new markets, and changes in customer expectations to their advantage. CMOs who are innovators are able to immerse themselves in the problem at hand while looking broadly for connections. By letting ideas incubate, and relaxing and reducing distractions to allow the breakthrough ideas to emerge, these CMOs are more likely to identify the ones that are worth pushing forward. “It is critical to be more outer-directed than inner-directed,” says Jill Beraud, CEO of Living Proof and former CMO of PepsiCo Beverages Americas. “This means continually looking outside of your industry, doing competitive patterning, and looking at other industries and other parts of the world for inspiration and solutions.” CMOs who transform their organizations through innovation can have an impact on the entire business value chain. “Innovation can be across product design, the service experience, the use of channels,” notes Peter Horst, CMO at Capital One Bank. “We are looking for a fresh take on the game. We look to be strategically bold by focusing on breakout moves rather than incrementalism. There is a growing appetite for innovation, at a faster pace.” Even the most well-established brands are constantly trying new approaches to engage customers and new markets. “Starbucks is in the middle of a transformational agenda,” says Marie Silloway, CMO of Starbucks China. The company is constantly examining how to enhance its brand promise and delight customers through the store experience and by developing new food products and beverages. “In China, innovation will be around figuring out how to maintain a consistent relationship with the customer base, how we can connect more deeply and more frequently,” says Silloway. “We are also looking for ways to leverage digital technology, which is still a relatively immature space in China.”


Focusing on Action and Outcomes Today’s markets emphasize speed and agility. Perfectionism, procrastination, and risk avoidance hamper CMOs’ ability to take quick and timely action in order to generate desired outcomes. CMOs who demonstrate a bias for action and an eagerness to take the initiative generally nurture an overall results-oriented mindset that drives the bottom line. They also instill the necessary urgency within teams and organizations to excel. “Focus on results and celebrate achievement, but don’t overlay staff with dozens of checks and balances,” says Paul Dickinson, the international managing director of client services for Christie’s International, and former global sales and marketing director for Virgin Atlantic. “Errors, even embarrassing ones, happen, but you’ve got to give people a challenge and give them the freedom to achieve it.” Transformative CMOs strike the right balance between action and thoughtful approaches to avoid wreaking havoc with unbridled change. They stay focused on their vision and maintaining momentum, but also consider the best courses of action as new data emerge. If CMOs do not achieve success with early steps, they must be agile and resilient enough to make adjustments. Increasingly, CMOs also must demonstrate tangible business results that align with the goals of the whole organization. They are expected to be more financially oriented and have However beautiful the strategy, you should a measurable role in generating revenue, which requires refining occasionally look at the results. the way they think about customer —Winston Churchill relationships. “We are more focused on numbers; we push the marketing team to think about metrics and where are the greatest levers we can push,” says Deborah Meyer, CMO of PulteGroup. Appropriate structures and processes can help create sustainable growth. Global brewer AB InBev, for instance, divides its marketing efforts into three processes: long-term brand and strategy activities, including


understanding demand, segmentation, positioning, and portfolio thinking; short-term (twelve to eighteen months) efforts to connect the brand to consumers; and ongoing renovation and innovation. “All of our ‘brand dreams’ are translated into specific key performance indicators,” says Chris Burggraeve, the company’s CMO. AB InBev trains its marketers, spells out expectations, and rigorously tracks results each year with a proprietary point-based marketing audit system that is part of its marketing excellence program. The company is very disciplined about tracking brand health, even beyond marketing. Since 2008 even top management’s incentive remuneration is partially tied to achieving specific “brand health” objectives, and more recently company reputation targets. “This demonstrates to all our stakeholders that as a top five FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) company, we are very serious about our mantra, ‘Brand health today is topline tomorrow,’” says Burggraeve.

Inspiring Others Although Inspiring Others is the third identified competency, it is truly the foundation for all CMO success. In order to create the new and different, teams need to be inspired and aligned behind a vision of change. Inspired and motivated teams take action and accomplish much more in terms of measurable outcomes. However, motivation is neither automatic nor consistent from person to person. Transformative CMOs must develop a clear and compelling vision, and then communicate that vision in a way that appeals to the core interests and values of their constituents. “Inspiration is making people do the impossible,” says Ann Lewnes, senior vice president of global marketing for Adobe Systems Inc. “It is the ability to show people where you If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect want to go and giving them the wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather confidence you can get there.”

teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

CMOs who are passionate about their vision should be able to close the gap between the current reality and an envisioned future and, in the process, ignite passion in others. The overall goal is to inspire followers to operate at their peak. What motivates each individual might be different, but each has to give focus, energy, and commitment.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Inspiration can also stem from getting “permission” to fail while innovating. “It is important to acknowledge that failure is an option, but that fear is not,” says Unilever’s Mathieu. “That will unleash energy, passion, and adrenaline that becomes contagious.” Others agree. “The CMO needs to paint a bold vision that people can sign up for and get excited about,” says Living Proof’s Beraud. “The role of the CMO is to provide opportunities for teams to stretch their ideas and encourage an environment where it’s OK if something does not work. This instills confidence and encourages an innovative culture.” Additionally, in order to drive organization-wide transformation, CMOs need inspirational leadership that extends across functions. That may require a more nuanced approach that leans heavily on diplomacy, communication, and other interpersonal skills. In highly matrixed organizations, “It is important for CMOs to provide thought leadership, be assertive, and collaborative—allowing and encouraging others to own the process and the outcome,” says Horst of Capital One Bank.

“ It is important to acknowledge that failure is an option, but that fear is not. That will unleash energy, passion, and adrenaline that becomes contagious.” Marc Mathieu

Senior Vice President of Marketing, Unilever

Enhancing abilities in an unequal world Although competencies can be instilled through training and experience, some—particularly the ability to Create the New and Different—are often difficult for individuals to develop. As a result, companies looking for a transformative CMO face the added challenge of making sure that candidates possess these competencies. For their part, current and aspiring CMOs should look for help wherever they can find it. Most enterprises’ talent management programs are designed to help executives in their career growth. However, a generalized program may not recognize the changing behavioral requirements of successful CMOs. Simply identifying high-potential leaders and giving them leadership training is not likely to help them nurture the three competencies critical for today’s marketing leaders. The development map for the transformative CMO must cover new ground, perhaps including individualized coaching and deliberately developmental assignments. For CMOs, failing to leverage this new set of competencies can severely limit


their success and hamper their careers. CMOs cannot rely on past successes to chart a clear course for the future. Instead, CMOs must chart an entirely new map that relies on these competencies to innovate, inspire, and execute for success. Companies that recognize that marketing is central to transformation efforts and are interested in bringing in a transformative CMO must work even harder to assess candidates for these competencies. Simply having industry or category experience is no guarantee of success. The ultimate measure of successful CMOs is the ability to create the new and different, to focus on action and outcomes, and to inspire others in order to drive change in their organizations.


Becoming a Transformative CMO CMOs, and those aspiring to the position, can take immediate concrete steps toward becoming a transformative marketing leader by focusing on the three critical competencies. Here, we’ve broken each down into critical do’s and don’ts.

Creating the New and Different Being a creative visionary overflowing with new ideas is fantastic. But there are other ways to foster innovation in yourself and the marketing team. Just being flexible, able to shift gears, and willing to take chances puts you a step ahead. Even with incomplete information, practice speculating about how things might turn out. And don’t discount the power of follow-through: you must manage innovation through the organization to bring the new ideas to market. You must be able to... > A llot sufficient time and focus for effective brainstorming sessions.

...Without > Quickly dismissing every offbeat idea as unworkable.

> C  ollaborate with colleagues who have diverse perspectives and can build on each other’s suggestions.

> I nsisting on perfection that can smother the inherent messiness of the innovation process.

> M  anage workload and schedule to create space for creative thinking and experimentation.

> Waiting for a crisis to embark.

> P  lay the role of idea champion by navigating the organization and helping to implement an idea that has merit.

> S  elling yourself short and ignoring your intuition.

> S  tudy the methods of great inventors and innovators.

> Relying on old data for new ideas.


Focusing on Actions and Outcomes A transformative CMO is focused on the target and the bottom line. He or she drives to get projects underway, and is resilient and tenacious enough to see each through to the end. You must be able to... > Balance analysis with action.

...Without > Being afraid to make mistakes.

> B  reak up tasks and find ways to reinforce yourself as the tasks are completed.

> Letting obstacles paralyze you.

> I nitiate action before all the facts are known.

> M  aking excuses yourself or shrinking responsibilities.

> Give progress updates.

> A  ssuming people know what you are doing.

Inspiring Others Getting individuals and teams to perform at a higher level and to embrace change is the essence of leadership. Interpersonal communication is key: a compelling vision drives both action and morale.


You must be able to... > Get to know other people and what really motivates them.

...Without > Delivering a speech, or worse, by reading the speech.

> Adjust your approach to meet other people’s needs and interests.

> A  ssuming that delivering a message once is all that is needed to gain buy-in.

> Use metaphors and analogies to paint a picture to which others can relate.

> L eaving people guessing about why they are doing this.

> Negotiating skillfully to achieve a fair outcome or promote a common cause.

> U  nderestimating the power of relationships.

> Building motivated, high-performing teams.

> F orgetting to express gratitude for efforts and reward.

Caren Fleit is co-leader of Korn/Ferry International’s Marketing Center of Expertise. She is a Senior Client Partner in the firm’s Consumer practice, based in New York City.

Brigitte Morel-Curran is a Senior Partner and Country Managing Director, Switzerland for Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting, based in Zurich.

Contributing Editors Jennifer Carroll, Senior Client Partner Philiep Dedrijvere, Senior Client Partner Richard Sumner, Principal Tierney Remick, Senior Client Partner

Korn/Ferry’s Marketing Center of Expertise Jacques Amey, Geneva David Barnes, Princeton Jan Campbell, Princeton Jennifer Carroll, Chicago EJ Chae, Seoul Jennifer DeCastro, New York Philiep Dedrijvere, Brussels Patrick Delhougne, New York Ann Fastiggi, New York Keith Feldman, San Francisco Caren Fleit, New York Peri Hansen, Los Angeles Jeff Hocking, San Francisco Katherine Lee, New York Grace Nida, Tokyo John Petzold, New York Tierney Remick, Chicago Jane Stevenson, Atlanta James Stuart, London Richard Sumner, London Kalya Tea, Paris Jeff Wierichs, New York Kate Wright, Melbourne


About The Korn/Ferry Institute The Korn/Ferry Institute generates forward-thinking research and viewpoints that illuminate how talent advances business strategy. Since its founding in 2008, the institute has published scores of articles, studies and books that explore global best practices in organizational leadership and human capital development.

About Korn/Ferry International Korn/Ferry International, with a presence throughout the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is a premier global provider of talent management solutions. Based in Los Angeles, the firm delivers an array of solutions that help clients to attract, engage, develop, and retain their talent. Visit for more information on the Korn/Ferry International family of companies, and www.kornferryinstitute com for thought leadership, intellectual property and research.


Š 2012 The Korn/Ferry Institute

The transformative CMO: Three must-have competencies to meet the growing demands placed  

The transformative CMO: Three must-have competencies to meet the growing demands placed on marketing leaders

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