The Secret to Being a CMO for Almost a Decade

The role of the CMO is synonymous with change. Corporate strategies shift. Interdepartmental challenges arise. And figuring out who to staff and how to allocate your budget is a constant battle. It’s an exhausting, high-pressure gig, and it’s no surprise that the average CMO’s tenure lasts just 45 months.

That figure is on the rise—nearly doubling in the last decade—and so is the influence of the CMO. A role that was once associated with costs is increasingly being valued because of its expertise in data-driven customer insights.

I recently met up with Wendy Harrington, who defied the odds by spending almost 11 years at Franklin Templeton, including a seven-year run as CMO. Harrington recently jumped at the chance to join the (currently in stealth mode) Tyto Lyfe LLC. I was curious to learn more about both the changing influence and responsibilities of today’s CMO. In a candid chat, Harrington revealed the keys to overcoming the biggest challenges a CMO faces: getting other departments on board, playing nice with legal, and figuring out exactly what your customer wants.

What is a CMO’s role when it comes to helping their peers, the extended leadership at the company?

In between sales and the customer is the critical role marketing can play. It’s an integration role and that was a big role at Franklin [Templeton]. For example, if the portfolio team needed to get their message out, I’d say, “Let’s connect to what they care about. How do we help them? Technology? Helping to bring to life the story?”

And then there’s legal, right? Legal signs off on so many things. Same story. Think, connect, and help them understand the value to the business. Marketing provides that nexus, that air traffic control, but also the context for the people who need to make the decisions.

What is a CMO’s role when it comes to corporate strategy changes?

The CMO is often at the forefront of the changes happening in the industry because they see customers reacting to them. And they start to see the data and what’s working and what’s not.

For me, it was much more about when you start seeing, for example, trends happening in accounts, in advisory values, in materials, in data. You start to see the things that customers clicked on and what they didn’t. We were able to provide that back at a high level that would help influence decisions strategically. We can inform where we need to go in a different direction or where we need to pile on resources. It’s really important.

I think most of the other organizations are doing specialty work. They don’t have their pulse as much on it and so marketing can provide that kind of stuff.

How do make sure you’re engaging the customers that are most important to the brand?

We learned a lesson a couple of years ago about what’s most important for the brand. There were definitely the power users that you need to pay attention to, but they often don’t look like the rest. So you just have to be careful that you don’t rely too much on the things they want, because they are already your advocates. They get it.

They may not represent the majority of your customers, so [you need to hit] a combination of talking to them and going and looking at the data from others. Seek out who is not participating, and then try to dive in and understand why you think that could be.

How do you identify those power users in the first place?

Often they’re the ones who tend to be most vocal, whether it’s on social media or in terms of sales, frequencies, interactions. We used to have something called “digital engagement” where we look at how often they came to the website, how often they interacted on social. Then, the sales team can better say that these are the people who are deeply engaged, who care and seemed to influence others. That’s another important data point.

That leads into my next question, which is: How do you deal with interdepartmental tension and acceptance of marketing, messaging, or content? Put more specifically, how do you get them to adapt and adopt?

We try and ground it in what the customer cares about—to say, “This is just fact!” We can agree, disagree, but this is what they’re voicing. This is what they’re asking. It may seem crazy to you, but we know they care about it. What are you trying to accomplish? Let us find ways to help you get through that journey.

Of course, all of this takes money. When it comes to getting more budget, and also using it correctly, where do you think brands should increasingly be placing their chips?

I think it depends on the starting point. If you don’t have a good sense of the impact you’re having, you need to figure that out.

What matters to you? For some companies, it’s cost of acquisition; for some, it’s engagement; for others, it’s understanding how somebody uses the product or why it’s not getting traction. So figure out whatever your KPIs are and start by selecting not 100, or even 30, but maybe 10 and then go back to those and ask: Why aren’t you where you need to be? Invest in that.

Usually if you can go back and tell that story, and show the lift, the CEO will be like “Oh my gosh, I had no idea.”

For example, at Franklin [Templeton], we chose one simple thing like emails getting traction. We wanted [to see that] in terms of open rates. What we realized is that we were working off an old paradigm of when to send them. So we were sending them first thing in the morning, on a Tuesday morning.

What we found out later, and worked backwards from, is that in the morning you come in and you have to go through a huge amount of emails. Your first reaction is delete, delete, delete. Then, by about lunchtime, you come back and are in a much more reflective mode. You’re much more likely to open it. It doesn’t matter about subject line or anything else. You’re just in a better place to respond. So by changing time of day, we could see lifts of twenty or thirty percent.

It seems so basic, but until you go and you do a trial and you actually test, you don’t know. I tried and encouraged them to do more testing, but the data… You need to find a way for the data to help you decide that as opposed to internal debates about what the right answer is.

And that was at Franklin Templeton?

I think that’s anywhere. It’s what I advocate. I’ve heard, in the early days at Amazon, they released their first shopping carts and were placing the icon of the shopping carts in the upper-left corner. They did an experiment, and they found a 1 percent lift by the upper right versus the upper left, and they went with that. I say, why keep debating it? Most of these things are not that hard. If you don’t know if you’re going with blue or red, try both and test each and see which one performs better.

Because often you’re not your customer, right?

One last question. We discussed how to decide where to spend your money; how do you spend your time?

Yeah, I think spending my time is either a question that everybody asks personally or professionally. Ideally, you spend it on what’s most important, but also the question is do you let the interruptions—the immediacy—trump what really matters to you?

I think the way you do that is that check every day. Check at the end of every day. Examine: How did I spend my time? Did I spend it how I wanted to and, if not, what is a better approach for next week?

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