Recent research reveals a concerning trend - while 90% of CEOs believe their marketing leaders’ roles are well-defined, only 22% of marketing leaders agree. This staggering discrepancy highlights a growing divide in how marketing leadership roles are perceived and utilized in organizations today. This insight was brought to light in a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, “Divide Between CEOs and CMOs is Widening…”
We believe that at the core of this disconnect lies differing definitions of marketing between CEOs and their marketing leaders. Many CEOs maintain a traditional view of marketing as primarily responsible for advertising, promotions, lead generation and other outward-facing activities. However, the scope of marketing has expanded dramatically in recent decades.
Today's modern marketing leaders are attacking marketing as a much broader strategic function encompassing market research, competitive analysis, product and brand strategy, pricing, customer experience management and more. Marketing leaders are on the frontlines gaining customer insights, identifying growth opportunities, and developing strategies to capture value.
When done effectively, marketing drives sustainable growth, boosts profitability, and creates competitive advantage. But this only happens when market leaders have a seat at the executive table with clear strategic influence.
Unfortunately, the expanding divide suggests marketing leaders often lack this strategic clout in practice. Their expertise in understanding customer motivations, mapping market landscapes, and identifying opportunities is underutilized. Marketing leaders also frequently lack control over the resources and decision-making power needed to execute strategies.
This disconnect stems from ingrained assumptions about marketing's role. CEOs with a dated perspective fail to appreciate marketing's evolution from a supporting capability to a central driver of growth. They risk leaving value on the table by not capitalizing on their marketing leader's full skillsets. We believe this gap is even wider in midsized companies.
On the other hand, marketing leaders may not sufficiently convey how their activities create value. They can appear too focused on tactics without tying back to strategic goals. Bridging this gap requires commitment from both sides.
Some CEOs need to shift their mental model of marketing from a cost center to a profit center. Approach marketing as a core capability for gaining deep customer insights that guide strategy. Include marketing leaders early in strategic planning.2. Structure for Impact
Create organizational structures that give marketing leaders increased authority over resources and decision-making. Ensure they have access to data and executive participation. Our research with The University of Texas, McCombs School of Business (as published in The Journal of Marketing Science) shows that companies who put Marketing in charge of growth are more successful than those who don’t.3. Maintain Open Communication
Regularly discuss role definitions, objectives, metrics and needs with marketing leaders. Be transparent about expectations and challenges. Grant marketing leaders opportunities to articulate marketing's value.4. Embrace a Growth Mindset
View marketing as an engine of growth, not just a supporting function. Be willing to invest more resources into expanded marketing capabilities.5. Focus on Business Impact
Task marketing leaders with quantifying and communicating how marketing drives real business results. Tie budgets and incentives to ROI metrics, not just activities completed.
Rigorously measure how marketing delivers value against strategic goals like revenue growth, customer acquisition costs, and lifetime value. Translate activities into dollars and cents.2. Align with Strategy
Proactively participate in strategic planning conversations. Tie programs back to core strategic objectives and priorities. Show how tactics ladder up.3. Speak the Language
Understand CEOs' mindsets and motivations. Communicate in terms focused on driving growth, not just completing tasks. Anchor proposals in financial impact.4. Build Credibility
Deliver results consistently. Follow through reliably on commitments. Slowly expand scope and budgets based on proven performance.5. Forge Connections
Strengthen relationships through regular touchpoints, especially informal ones. Seek mentoring opportunities with business-minded CEOs.
Methodologies like The Growth Gears™ provide useful frameworks to align CEOs and marketing leaders. They create a shared language and process for marketing strategy and activities. However, rigid adherence to any one system is less important than maintaining an ongoing, productive dialogue between leaders.
The Growth Gears focuses on three gears:1. Insight - Deep customer, competitive, company and market understanding
This provides a logical progression from insights to strategic priorities to aligned execution. The model helps CEOs clearly see marketing's strategic contributions.
Bridging the divide ultimately requires transparency, trust and sustained communication calibrated and aligned to business goals. Both sides must overcome ingrained assumptions and appreciate differing vantage points.
Marketing, when strategically empowered, can drive tremendous value. But only through candid, ongoing dialogue can leaders access marketing's full potential as a growth engine. The payoff for companies who bridge this gap is game-changing.