Story, Stack and Culture
July 6, 2022

Getting the marketing organisation ‘future-fit’ | Part 3

Continuing our series on the role of the CMO and the part it should play in creating a future-fit organisation, we look at the bigger picture.  Much of the conversation around the future of the CMO role is centred around the expanding digitalisation of marketing and there’s no doubt that technology enables a quicker, deeper, smarter, more effective and in some cases more innovative deployment of a marketer’s wares. 

On the back of this, there appears to be a constant clamour to acquire the latest tech and marketers, as a breed, are often accused of being magpies on a constant quest to get the next bit of shiny stuff.  There’s a lot of talk about what great marketing technology looks like – but there’s a difference between the best stack and the right stack. How do you make the right purchase decision?  Owning a Ferrari maybe an exciting prospect but without the driving skills to fully exploit its performance, or even without sufficient fuel – resources – to put into it, you may wish you had gone for a more practical model instead. 

Without doubt, the role of modern marketing leadership requires more understanding of marketing technology but marketing leaders need a wide range of skills to be effective in their role.  In particular, CMO’s should not forget the ‘C’ in their job title.  Like any C-suite leadership role their principal responsibility lies in three areas:

1.      Set a clear, compelling vision of the future

2.     Equip and set the team up for success with appropriate skills and resources

3.     Build and maintain a consistent and enabling culture

Yes, digital fluency is important for marketers today, but not at the expense of the core assets of strategy, brand story, the product or service you sell, and the people who sell it. 

We see the future role of the CMO being about balancing Story, Stack and Culture.

Tell us a story

There’s an old sales line that says, “Talking about the brand doesn’t drive leads.”  We still occasionally hear that line today from sales teams, COOs, CFOs and even CEOs. Brands are about making emotional connections with consumers that influence choice by creating a narrative that engages with its target audience.  With so much choice available, having no brand or story means you probably compete on the lowest common denominators, price and availability. 

Marketers today have some amazing technology available to them, capable of targeting a specific set of messages, at a particular customer, at the most effective time, on the most appropriate channel.  But without the message – the story – its impact is at best limited and potentially damaging, sapping budget and human resources that could be deployed more effectively. 

The fundamental job of a marketer is to craft those brand stories to build customer engagement and relevance. This applies to the business-to-business world as much as the consumer sector with long-term, slow-burn ‘brand marketing’ arguably taking an even more important role to maintain awareness and relevance when customers are not in-market for long periods.

Whilst CMOs are not, or least should not be, in the day-to-day creation of sales and marketing messages, they are responsible for telling the bigger picture story. The story that sets the direction of travel for the marketing effort and the brand; Where we’re going, why we’re going there, what it’s going to take to get there, and what it will feel like when we get there.

But a story with no-one listening is just words, and products without buyers are just stock or cost.  Finding new customers and retaining existing ones is no easier now than it ever has been.  Today, there are so many potential touchpoints a customer may have with your brand, how do you know you are serving them with the right influence at the right time?  The choice and complexity of the technology you use is an important choice to help you do that effectively and efficiently.

Build the right stack

As business grows and organisations develop a few things are likely to happen.  There’s more data to deal with, more people and tasks to manage with more complex problems to sort.  The job of a CMO is to set the team up for success, equipping them with the right information, technology and processes – removing obstacles to help them be more efficient and more effective.  Your choice of technology here can make or break your plans.

There’s a temptation to buy the biggest, most powerful tools you can, which will cover you for all eventualities.  But this strategy quickly eats budget and can result in owning an amazing car that you’re just not equipped to drive, with very little money left to make a change – and it costs a fortune to give it a run-out each month! 

The job of a CMO is to set a very clear brief for the CTO to deliver on.  After all, a CMO should have the clearest view about the challenges the marketing organisation is seeking to solve, and the CTO should have the capabilities to find the right solution to the brief. So consider the following:

·       Think strategy before technology 

·       Be ruthless about the capture, cataloguing and storing of your data 

·       Focus on trying to make the complex, simple and look for a medium-term solution 

Whilst you may see the martech stack as a large one-off investment, it’s very likely that you will end up re-shaping strategies and tactics along the way, and you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner.  Being able to add to your stack, especially when you move on from generalist areas to very specific point solutions.

In essence the role of the CMO is remain obsessively focused on the customer and brand challenges they are looking to solve and providing a technology stack that enables the team to operate at their best, every day. 

Focus on culture

The right tools can get all your messages, in all your touchpoints, in front of the right customers, more often and at the right time.  However, you still need the structures and processes to make it work. You need an enabling culture

However, don’t conflate that enabling culture with a need to be all ‘happy-clappy’ either.  This is about ensuring the work environment, people, processes and behaviours all work in harmony to get the best result

Firstly, today’s marketing teams must be nimble.  They need to be able to react to new demands and opportunities.  But that agility must fit with the culture of the business and be supported by the necessary processes and structures to deliver it.  This means resources need to be fluid, planning needs to be flexible and team structures adaptable to respond to market changes.

Secondly, it’s about alignment.  This means meshing what drives the business with what drives the people within it and meeting customer expectations. For the CMO, it’s not just about focusing on the culture within the marketing team, but how marketing operates alongside other parts of the organisation. Shared objectives, clear definition of roles and responsibilities underpinned by effective communication channels will strengthen alignment. 

Also, there’s a bigger brand piece to consider here.  How employees act in front of your customers and deliver that brand experience, how designers develop products and service, how the business works with suppliers – these are down to the strength and belief in your culture.  Does everyone internally get what the brand stands for?  Do all your employees understand the role they play in delivering that every day.  Who’s helping them understand that?

Finally, if marketing needs to play a more central role in the organisation then positioning of the marketing leadership needs consideration. The CMO should be sat at the top table as an equal partner and an influencer in the strategic direction of the organisation.  This is not an organisational issue but a cultural one – placing marketing as a driver of the business rather than a ‘necessary business function.’  This requires CMOs to have a high degree of commercial awareness with the skills to build relationships and alliances at senior level – and political nous..

The role of marketing is changing.  The need for balance and alignment of story, stack and culture is elevating marketing from the promotional playground to the room upstairs who are bossing change and designing future success-winning strategies.

Authors: Neil Burrows & Andy Goram

July 2022

Neil Burrows is Founder and CEO of SaturnFive® and leads the international consulting network from its UK base in Oxford.

Andy Goram is Associate Consultant, Employee Experience at SaturnFive® Consulting and owner of BizJuicer Consulting.