a cmo’s dream team

Last week’s Ad Age featured an article called “Why It’s Time to Do Away With the Brand Manager.” The piece, and the Forrester research report which inspired it, argues for “changing the name ‘brand manager‘ to ‘brand advocate,’ and fundamentally changing marketer organizations in response to the onset of the digital age.” It reminded me of an article I wrote several years ago.

Outlining my thoughts on the key roles needed in any marketing department, I argued for the creation of a position called “brand operator” — someone whose role it is to drive brand operationalization. I thought I’d share with you the full article now. I considered updating it to acknowledge the new marketing and communication tools that have arisen since I wrote the piece, but the more I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t necessary. The tools may have changed, but I believe the fundamental marketing roles I outlined are evergreen:

A CMO’s Dream Team


The 1995-96’s Bulls. The 1992 Clinton election team. These are dream teams. Extraordinary individuals who come together to accomplish extraordinary results. Marketing, like sports or politics, requires highly skilled people at the top of their game, working together seamlessly to compete and win.

Chief marketing officers, like coaches and other leaders, who seek dream teams must assemble remarkable individuals to generate remarkable results. In the past, CMOs knew who they needed on their team – some smart brand managers and some functional experts in research and media.

But the marketing landscape has changed dramatically and the skill sets and experiences needed on a CMO’s marketing bench have changed just as dramatically. New media, market fragmentation, and brand proliferation have given birth to new ways to go to market and new challenges in doing so. Today CMOs need to rethink the types of marketing expertise they need on the team.

Here are 6 types of players that can help produce winning results in today’s marketing environment:

1.  A Brand Operator – This isn’t just a fancy new label for the old brand manager function – a Brand Operator contributes a whole different perspective, skill set, and expertise. While brand managers manage activities to promote the brand, Brand Operators operationalize brands throughout the entire Company. Brands represent a way of doing things that should drive business strategy, define operating processes, and impact company culture. As such, a CMO needs someone to activate the brand in all of these areas – working with senior management, operational teams, and human resources. A Brand Operator is someone who truly understands the Company’s business and who can overcome organizational barriers to get things done.

2.  A Connections Planner – With the proliferation of new media options and the fragmentation of traditional ones, a CMO needs someone who understands the impact of different touchpoints on how customers make purchase decisions. A Connections Planner is savvy about search marketing, branded entertainment, and weblogs as well as traditional media – and is always on the lookout for emerging opportunities. He or she combines knowledge about customers’ lifestyles and media usage/exposure with data-based analyses of the efficiency and effectiveness of the different avenues to communicate with them. The result is strategies for making relevant and salient connections between the brand and its target. Until and unless agencies demonstrate the ability to plan and buy media agnostically, the responsibility for Connections Planning must remain an internal function.

3.  A Creative Leader – Far too often, CMOs leave leadership of the brand’s creative expression up to the advertising agency. In rare instances, this may come to make sense over time — but generally speaking, there is too frequent turnover of creative directors and/or agencies themselves to maintain consistency and explore the richness of brand understanding that develops only through many years. Furthermore, a Creative Leader provides inspiration and direction for the expression of the brand at all touchpoints — from tradeshow booths to corporate headquarters to salespeople’s collateral. He or she does this through an intuitive understanding of the essence of the brand and a vision for the brand’s ambitions.

4.  Customer Experts – A CMO needs a Customer Expert for each segment of the Company’s existing customers/prospects and at least one dedicated to uncovering new sources of business. While market researchers have historically been tagged as the “voice of the customer,” this approach falls short of the marketing need. The team needs someone who is more interested in customers than in methodologies — someone who synthesizes insights from all sources of information (database analyses, store audits, cultural scanning, syndicated shopping data, and even “grandmother research”) along with primary consumer research to develop a rich profile and deep understanding of the target customers.

5.  An Investment Analyst – Today’s boardroom requires a CMO to prove the return on marketing investments – and so a CMO requires an Investment Analyst on the team. This person implements the infrastructure and process for collecting the necessary marketing data, analyzes and evaluates marketing investments on a timely basis and in an objective manner, and makes recommendations for future budget allocation. Although the CFO’s office should be consulted, the job shouldn’t be left to controllers. A finance-savvy marketer will figure out how to account for, not dismiss, the subjectivity that comes with the marketing territory – and he or she will be familiar with market research data that can be used in the analyses.

6.  An Independent Advisor – The CMO needs an Independent Advisor for the same reasons Tony Soprano needs his conciliare and Jon Gruden needs a defensive coordinator on headset with a bird’s eye view of the game. When you’re in the trenches, it’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees – and it’s even harder to be objective about something the whole team has been passionately pursuing. Free from bandwidth and political constraints, an Independent Advisor can provide the big picture view when a reality check is needed — or dig deep into a problem to uncover an elusive diagnosis. He or she can be the source for “the word on the street,” contribute perspectives from different categories and brands, and play the role of a talent scout.

These 6 types of players can form the foundation for a winning marketing team. Of course, this begs the question of the role of the CMO.

I suggest the CMO’s primary role is one of a maestrothe conductor who brings out the specific talents of each player and brings them together to produce a great work. The CMO has the vision and recruits people with the potential to deliver it, entices and enables them to see it, and enrolls them in engaging in it – and then eliminates distractions and shores up resources. Moreover, a maestro determines spirit and style, setting the culture in which the team will operate.

The right players with the right leader and the right culture. This is the stuff dreams — dream teams, that is — are made of.

(image above is from Bill Frakes/SI)

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