Think with Google Report: Does it speak to today’s CMO?

9 min read by Charles Craik 15 Feb 2023

CMO Times - Think With Google

Google’s recent survey with Fortune 1000 board members revealed fascinating insights into the challenges facing CMOs at some of the biggest companies in the world. But how relevant is the research for the rest of us? We asked Sarah Lambley (FCIM, CMktr) and former Global Brand Director at ghd, for a reality check.


This article discusses key findings from Google and Deloitte’s insight report: What board members say about the CMO. Sarah Lambley, (FCIM, CMktr) and former Global Brand Director at ghd, takes the lead. Below, she challenges 8 key claims and provides advice to help marketers remain indispensable C-Suite partners in today’s tough-talking world.

1. The 21st Century CMO is expected to be a marketing miracle worker, an alchemist who combines the classic art of branding with the latest advances in data and measurement.

What Google describes here is what the marketing discipline is, and always has been. I don’t buy into the idea that marketing has to do much more than they ever had to before. Marketing, by nature, should be a converging discipline, adapting over time to changing tech and platforms. What’s happened is that marketing tools have become more accessible to the non marketer, dumbing down the discipline over time.

2. Board members don’t seem to have one cohesive definition of the role.

I’m not surprised. In my experience, ask a Board ‘what is marketing’ or ‘what does marketing do?’ and I’m not sure they’d give you a very clear answer. Sadly, many boards expect marketing to simply write press releases, to create nice visuals – so marketers are held at arm’s length and are not brought into those important business level conversations where they can bring value to the overall strategy.

3. [CMOs] should… Internally steer expectations for their role by defining growth they have some control over.

This is so important. I believe that the lack of training is the one thing that stops marketers succeeding at what they are meant to do. They enter the profession with some expertise in a particular area and end up specialising in building email campaigns or managing social media accounts. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with having a passion for a tactical area of marketing and using that as an entry point. But to become that ‘beating heart’ of the business, marketers need to get a level of commercial training and awareness of what they’re entering into.

There is a big opportunity for marketers to steer expectations. For example, committing to a programme of research. Companies groan inwardly when they hear this, but it doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands. It can be proportionate to the size of the business.

Moreover, good mentors are lacking these days. Growing businesses in particular don’t have the luxury of being able to provide entry level marketers with access to strategic level thinking, someone who is able to oversee others’ progress in a helpful and non-competitive way.

4. Customers matter more than ever, and since you’re responsible for them, your role should matter more than ever too.

I agree. Marketers should know the customers better than anyone. Marketers should be at the heart of product development. Why? Because they’ve done their market orientation and they conduct regular diagnostic research. But the easiest mistake for CMOs is to think that they ARE the customer. I speak from experience. Before I started at ghd, I believed I was their ideal target customer. But as my research proved, I couldn’t go into the role assuming that ghd customers wanted the same things I did. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but an important one.

5. Recognise that the talent of the team is half the battle to achieving that battle.

Yes, but equally importantly, you need a generalist in the CMO role – a strong, commercial thinker who’s good at problem solving, who can answer the strategic questions and then support the board. Then, surround yourself with talent. Bring in the freelancers and/or the agencies to execute your strategy.

6. Marketers are expected to stay ahead of the rapidly changing landscape of digital technology, cultural trends and shifting consumer expectations.

Yes, they are, but this is where working with specialists is important. Marketing is changing fast; perhaps more than any other discipline. The CMO can’t be expected to know everything and more importantly, you can’t simply make them ‘experts’ in a specific area by sending them on a two day course. Of course you have to be disciplined to continue learning and growing your marketing knowledge, but you also need to recognise when to bring a specialist in.

7. Boards… represent shareholder interests, make sure companies’ financials are sound, consider legal issues, and ensure quality of leadership and succession. [It’s] hard to also look at marketing stuff.

For me, this comes back to the first point: that marketing should not be a separate item on the agenda. Marketing needs to be embedded in all these things. How is the brand represented at shareholder level? How can marketing create stronger processes to attract the best leaders into the business? That said, I absolutely agree that a CMO needs to be someone who can read a P&L, understands performance, and measures it in a sensible way – not just likes on social media.

8. The role of CMO is facing existential threat, with an average tenure of 43 months.

I’m actually surprised that the average tenure is as long as this. The challenge is that when you go into a big role, you’re often working to someone else’s plan. You can’t suddenly change what’s happened in the past. This can cause frustration on both sides – the business wanting the new hire to hit the ground running and CMOs feeling like they’re restricted by what’s already in plan. The most successful brands will have had a strong team in place for a while; they understand the dos and don’ts of the brand, and have had time to get to know their customers. It takes 6 months to diagnose a brand’s overall health and understand where it needs to go – which can be done alongside delivering tactical activities – but then you need time to deliver a strategy based on your diagnosis work.

So, off the record… what are your tips for marketers looking to progress?

Be commercially minded. Accept help from other people. Take time to research your customer thoroughly, find a mentor and most importantly, be open minded, coachable and curious.

And finally: put down the ego; be willing to say “I haven’t heard of that, but I’d like to know more.” For me, this is the key to being a successful marketer and CMO.

Sarah Lambley

About Sarah

Sarah Lambley (FCIM, CMktr) is Founder of The SME Marketing Academy and works as a marketing consultant providing planning, training and coaching to her clients. With 25 years of experience working both agency and client side, Sarah helps brand owners and managers to discover their brand advantage, transform their business and make more money. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.

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