The CMO as Change Agent

Most people don’t like change. It always has been – and it always will be – difficult.

But, as Seth Matlins points out in his post at Ad Age, refusing to change is typically even more problematic. “In marketing [...] the status quo is a slow death,” he writes. “It’s killing progress and stifling creativity and innovation. It’s the competition.”

At Aprimo, we recognized years ago that in today’s dynamic environment of rapidly proliferating channels and variable internal constraints, marketers have no choice but to embrace change. We’re all now part of an industry-wide revolution, and as John Quelch, who recently left Harvard Business School to become Dean of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai says, it’s time to “eat lunch or be eaten.”

Let’s forget about eating for a second. The more fundamental question is this: Are marketers even stepping up to the plate? Are they participating in the revolution, or are they simply watching from the sidelines, hoping that someday things will return to “business as usual?”

More and more, I see reasons to be optimistic. The marketing function is beginning to evolve, and across the board, marketers are embracing change. They’re using technology to help them transform the customer experience. And, they’re learning to drive revenue growth in new and exciting ways. For proof, check out recent campaigns by PepsiAmerican ExpressWells Fargoand MGM (to name just a few).

Still, there is much more work that needs to be done.

Every marketer – whether B2B or B2C – must come to terms with the fact that there is no turning back now. Survival today depends on accepting change. Success tomorrow will depend on driving change. We’ve reached a point where we need a new breed of marketing innovator, someone who is not only tech-savvy, but also a true business leader. Don’t misunderstand; it’s not that we need these “new” CMOs to have all the answers. But, we do indeed need them to envision a different world, both internally and externally, for their teams and their customers.

For many, the first step in the transformation process will be clearing stubborn emotional hurdles. Seth Godin describes it as overcoming the “lizard brain.” Of course, marketers have to confront the lizard on multiple fronts. We have to welcome technology, adapt to tight budgets, tear down silos and at the end of the day, be accountable. Combine all these challenges with the short shelf-life of the CMO these days, and it’s no wonder that fear can paralyze the spark to be a change agent…

… But only if you let it.

I can’t help but remember the encouraging words of Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO of Kodak and our AMS11 keynote speaker, as I finish writing this. You can’t wait for conditions to be perfect, because “perfect” conditions will never exist, he told us. Instead, start taking risks now. “Will anyone die if you fail?” Jeff asked. If the answer is no, then proceed ahead. Embrace change, and join the revolution.

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Author:Lisa Arthur

Seasoned C-Level Marketer with Fortune 50, Start-up and mid-sized high-tech marketing expertise. Currently CMO of Aprimo. Corporate blogger for Forbes.

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