SBM Articles


The Death of the CMO

by Jeremy Nulik

You and your family own a small plot in a fertile valley close to a big city. As a matter of feeding yourselves and out of passion for the land, you have become especially adept at growing a variety of vegetables. You’re so good at this that the harvest is more than you need. You figure that if these tomatoes and peppers are goods that you love, then others would love them too. And they may even be willing to part with cash to get their hands on some.

Now you’re a CEO and have everything you need to be a business. You just need customers.

You head into the city to find an expert in the creation of signs to draw people to your location. This person is your CMO. And the more signs he makes, the more useful he tells you that he is. Because, obviously, more signs means more vegetable buyers. So you pay the guy per sign.

This seemingly primitive story illustrates the role established for marketing to this day. Although you could trade out a “corporation” for “veggie stand” or “Google ads” for “signs,” the story remains. Marketing, as a concept and practice, is understood to add value after products, services and systems are well-defined. That is largely because marketing, then and now, has succumbed to the tyranny of the tangible. Marketing is defined by its tools and conventions: email, digital, advertising, branding, content. In short: a sprinkle of marketing tricks makes the substantive product more palatable.

The siloed role for marketing as such is effective until it meets reality. That is, until another family opens a stand. Or the folks in the city start reading about which vegetables are best for them. Marketing systems seem to work out well until something changes. And that is the pressure that you are likely feeling if you are a CEO. And you are not alone.

Of the hundreds of CEOs surveyed last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers, over 80% believe that ever-shifting consumer behavior is the top among their concerns followed quickly by accelerating technologies and artificial intelligence. How, in this context, could you abdicate the future for your organization to a particular department or technology? It seems impossible to do so, because it is.

Marketing in this uncertain world has to understand the deepest intentions of the organization. It must know how those intentions can be lived out via the humans in the organization. It must know how to interpret customers and how to have empathy for their needs. It must establish trust with the humans in the network surrounding the organization.

That job description should sound familiar because it is that role of the CEO. It is your responsibility to lead the development of marketing your notion.

With this understanding of the interdependence or connectedness of marketing discipline into that of strategy, you could take on a different approach to opening your veggie stand. You would ask yourself: Who is this stand meant to serve? How do they understand vegetables? What kind of experience could I provide people with vegetables and what human need am I serving? Why do I love creating that experience? Then you could assemble a team that would implement accordingly and navigate change. This is how CEOs lead through uncertainty.

The days of the CMO who manages budget allocations with the latest tools is over. When you crossed the chasm into being a CEO, you took on the mantle of understanding the interconnectedness of your organization. If you must have a CMO role in your organization, it should be a human that would inspire and provoke that interconnectedness of marketing into every business decision.
The CMO is dead. Long live the CMO.

Jeremy Nulik ( is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a design futures agency, in St. Louis, Mo.

Submitted 2 years 245 days ago
Categories: categoryMarketing Works
Views: 1400