Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Who will be the CMO’s most trusted advisor?

The business of marketing is moving quickly away from a one-way, linear process, where communications start with the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and end up with the customer or consumer.  With the rise of digital and social media, we have moved to an environment where marketing is more complicated and shared across a number of disciplines within the client organization, requiring an increasing number of internal and external channels, different stakeholders and advocates, as well as multi-level conversations.  
The CMO must also respond to increasing consumer demands from brands. Consumers want great products, services and experiences. But they also want brands to do good deeds for people and the planet, and provide education, entertainment, information and the ability to connect with other like-minded people.
While this is an incredibly exciting time, many marketing people are struggling to keep up the market changes.  An increasing number of influencers and advisors are moving in to help fill the gap and become the CMO's top advisor.  Some of these players are existing partners including Brand Consultancies, Creative Agencies, Digital Agencies, Media Agencies, Public Relations companies and Research Houses.  Others are new players, including Business Process Consultants and Internet Companies such as Google and Microsoft.
Given a backdrop of increasing complexity and expectations, who will become the most trusted advisor(s) to the CMO?  The winner will almost certainly be the one who is able to serve the CMO's needs – as outlined below – in a manner better, faster, cheaper and more comprehensively,  than others. Who is best positioned to do this?
1. Brilliant Ideas and Thought leadership
Trusted marketing advisers need to be inspirational, presenting big, inspiring ideas to build businesses in these changing times. To do this the need to involve both the best people in their organizations and to bring in outside experts in relevant fields e.g., youth experts, authors, editors, film makers…. who have both a vision of the future and the means to help marketers achieve their objectives and goals.  The leaders of these advisory companies must share their time and skills with both their key clients and the people who work in their organizations.
Apparent leaders: Creative agencies and Brand Planners tend to be strong in this area of "Big ideas" so they have an advantage here. PR agencies also excel at bringing outside advocates in to support brands and marketers.  Business Process Consultants have great ideas on how to run business more efficiently but are not necessary attuned to consumers. In short, no one has a corner on thought leadership, and many will compete in this arena.  
2. Unique insights
Trusted marketing advisors must provide unique insights into how to build brand affinity and drive sales and repeat purchases. These insights will come through:
  • Analytics of existing data. (Most brands have a wealth of data. The real challenge is how to draw insights from this data.)
  • Proprietary Research related to the specific target groups and brand industry
  • Round-table Discussions where the marketing partner brings in a number of clients and experts to tackle specific topics that have shared interests. 
Apparent leaders:  Research agencies obviously have a wealth of information from dealing with many clients and have advantages here. Media agencies also have strong target group data and have done research into Social Media which gives them an advantage here. In addition, the top PR agencies have released studies on Advocacy, CSR and Trust, which give them strength here. Digital agencies and Internet companies also bring a wealth of data to uncover insights and future trends.   Finally creative agencies are often able to combine data with qualitative thinking to provide insights. So a number of players are competing for dominance in this area and the CMO and Brand should be able to benefit from this competition.  
3. "Whole brain" thinking
Trusted marketing advisors need to bring both creative and analytical thinking to support their recommendations. While in the recent past it was possible to be strong with "right brained" creative thinking or excel at "left brained" rational support, today's market requires both sides of the brain to work together. So the brilliant idea is not just inspirational to some but has been analytically proven to have broad appeal. Marketing investments needs to both "smart" and "safe", meaning they will deliver a proven ROI.
Apparent leaders:  This area does not seem to have a strong leader as agencies tend to be either creative or analytical.  An "integrative" solution is not widely available suggesting opportunities for a new type of agency.
4. Financial acumen
Trusted marketing advisors need to better understand the financial elements of their clients business and present ideas from the position of driving bottom line results.  They need to demonstrate to both the CMO and its Finance and Procurement divisions, the direct relationship between spending and results.  Financial acumen can be improved by involving financial people in the account management function.
Apparent leaders: The media agencies have strength here because they work with thin margins and tend to have stronger finance functions.  However all agencies can and should think more about the broader context of client financials.
5. Internal communications
Trusted marketing advisors should help their clients align the "cultures" of their organizations (i.e., the people who work on the brands) to the Vision and Image of the brand.  A key reason for this is that brands are judged more on what they do versus what they say. So it's increasingly important to involve more players in the marketing decisions across organization – for brands are only as strong as their weakest links.  Increasingly organizations will have to live up to their brand promises or be held accountable through the transparency provided by the Internet.  
Apparent leaders: Business Process Consultants and Branding Consultancies have  strength in this area, as they help advise clients on structuring organizations to more effectively and efficiently delivery products, services and experiences, and in expressing a unique "Behavior identity".  
6. "Added value"
Trusted marketing advisors will have to generate ways to help the CMO provide added value to consumers beyond great products, services and experiences. They will have to develop ways for brands to do good deeds for people and the planet in addition to being profitable. They will also need to help brands and CMO's share their know-how in their particular expertise to educate, entertain, inform and help consumers connect with other like-minded people.
Apparent leaders: The PR agencies have strength in this area because much of this involves brand advocates. Further, there are a number of CSR and Sustainability consultancies that can help companies with the "Triple bottom line" of profit, people and planet. However, there is no one group that has an edge in this area for added value is tied closely with consumer insights.
7. Content generation and continuous communications
Trusted marketing advisors need to help develop on-going content to keep up with the continuous conversations that revolve around brands. Consumers interact with brands on a 24×7x365 basis. They are increasingly demanding fresh content and two-way communications, with the result that the model of campaigns is now obsolete.
Apparent leaders: Digital agencies, retail marketers and PR companies have strengths in continuous communications. That said, digital agencies are probably best at generating on-going content as it has been easiest and cheapest to produce, when compared with traditional communications.
8. Integration
Trusted marketing advisors need to help their clients integrate the specialists from the various disciplines including BTL, brand identity, creative, digital, media, research etc.  Given the huge developments in digital (and particularly search and social media) clients are finding it difficult to manage the complete communications of their brands.
Apparent leaders: While the large holding companies are in the best position to help integrate the various communications disciplines they have not been overly successful in doing this as the individual silos are often fighting for the same portion of the marketing budget. Holding companies still have an edge but need to find better ways to provided integrated services to the CMO.
To conclude, consumer behavior has dramatically changed and placed higher expectations of brands. Companies are also demanding more accountability from the marketing function. As a result, the CMO's job is becoming increasingly complicated.
While this is an exciting time for the CMO, it is difficult to get on top of all the changes in the market place. And the marketing advisors see this time as a chance to increase their position and the trust they earn from the CMO.  But it is not clear which ones are gaining ground in this area.
Until this resolves, the role of the CMO will be to get the best from the varied advisors and to let time, ideas and results decide who will be the most trusted advisor.  

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