Do you sincerely want to be CEO, asks Judie Lannon?

Bernie Cornfield master salesman and borderline fraudster, made a massive fortune selling mutual funds in the 1970s. His famous line to prospective clients – ‘do you sincerely want to be rich’?’ -  was clearly impossible to refuse and the millions rolled in.  The question implies a cast-iron route to riches, but it also implies a deep longing on the part of the prospect.

So I’ll borrow this thought and direct the question to CMOs: do you sincerely want to be CEO?

At a recent CMO conference in Zurich, Professor Stefan Michel (IMD) examined the perennial question of why marketers aren’t more widely represented in top management.  It’s a question that still needs a good explanation.  I’ve always felt the root cause of this was short-sightedness and lack of imagination on the part of the CEO. A brand owning company needs first class marketing skills at the top and it’s up to the CEO to define the job and recruit/promote accordingly.  But aspiring CMOs have a responsibility too.

Professor Michel had three specific pieces of advice. 

The first is to choose your company wisely.
His research showed that marketers are more highly regarded, more highly paid and more likely to advance in brand owning consumer goods companies. 

The second piece of advice is critical once in the job.
Make sure that you are adding value and are seen to be adding value in the three fundamental and intimately related aspects of any organisation:  its strategy, its structure and its culture. 

And finally, always make the business case,
not the marketing case which requires a greater familiarity with business metrics that marketers typically have going in.

But many, perhaps most, marketers would just like to have more influence as marketers.  And for this, Jim Stengel ex-Global Marketing Officer of P&G also had three pieces of advice answering a question about, ‘what are marketers’ biggest mistakes? ‘

Echoing Prof. Michel, the first mistake was defining your role (or allowing it to be defined) too narrowly. The second was failing to inspire others to aim higher, and thirdly failing to leave a legacy (which inevitably damages future job prospects).

And he went further to develop what aiming ‘higher’ really meant and what kind of legacy was the most valuable. He argued that associating your company or brand with higher order ideals -think Apple, Starbucks, and Nike or at a brand level, Pampers, Persil, Dove. It’s an important idea for P&G, dedicated as they have been to functional claims. But most importantly, his research shows that brand equity created this way pays back handsomely. Forget functionality as the brand discriminator, is really what he’s saying.

Brands are distinguished by the emotional connections – call them ideals or values – and these emotional connections are what sustain a brand over time even as technology changes the product itself. Succeed in driving this thought through the organisation and you will have added value to strategy, structure and culture. And while you may not become CEO, you will inevitably become the CFO’s new best friend.