Chief marketing officers today are facing pressure from all directions.

In late 2022, Katie Hicks at Marketing Brew reported that the average CMO held their job for about 40 months. CMOs already had the shortest tenure in the C-suite, and it appears that tenure is shrinking.

Further, marketing budgets are getting tighter and tighter as financial pressures mount. The wave of tech layoffs since Q3 2022 indicate companies are preparing for lean times. And when budgets get lean, everyone in the C-suite starts to eye the marketing budget. Laura Milsted, global advertising director at the Financial Times, says this happened during the last recession. Other executives started asking for proof of impact from the company’s marketing activities once money began to get scarce.

As a result, CMOs often find themselves in a position of having to chase short-term wins to appease other executives. That game of short-termism eventually becomes a race to the bottom. The best way to fend off that short-termist tendency is for a CMO to persuasively communicate the time and budget it will take to achieve the goals of the company, its CEO and its board. In many ways, this is the CMO’s most valuable marketing initiative.

And while most CMOs know this intuitively, few have a concrete framework for this kind of internal marketing because, well, they’re under pressure from all directions.

Here is that framework. It’s a three-step process CMOs can use to protect a long-term strategy against the demands for short-term wins.

Get In Sync With the Language of the Leadership Team

Marketing has a language of its own. So does finance, and HR, and sales, and every other function within an organization. When other executives start demanding proof that marketing activities are working, this is a big red flag that indicates they don’t actually know what the marketing team is doing.

In a November 2022 episode of Adweek’s The Business of Marketing podcast, KPMG marketing consultant Jason Galloway stressed the importance of ensuring marketing KPIs are the same as the entire C-suite’s KPIs.

This means mapping out all marketing activity — its processes, its funding, its capabilities, how it measures success — and then bringing those KPIs to other executives and board members. Ask them directly whether those measurements make sense or matter to them, Galloway says.

Then, press further. It’s ultimately the CMO’s job to persuade the CEO to provide a clear five-to-10-year vision for the company.

Make sure that intelligence folds into the marketing team’s mission. In a 2019 piece for HBR, researchers Christine Moorman and Lauren Kirby cited a survey that found only one in three marketing leaders reported their roles were “very clear.”

In the face of ambiguity, marketers often start chasing short-term wins in lieu of long-term strategies, Moorman and Kirby write. Alignment with other executives helps bring clarity to ambiguity.

Meeting young professionals; long-term strategy concept

Educate Leadership on the Dangers of Short-Term Goals

It’s not exact, but you can broadly describe all marketing activities as either supporting brand building or sales enablement. Brands take a long time to build. Conversions depend on short-term activities. And that’s more or less how the short-term/long-term binary pans out.

Les Binet and Peter Field describe this dynamic in their classic book “The Long and the Short of it.” There, Binet and Field make the case that focusing exclusively (or even too much) on short-term sales enablement objectives undercuts key goals such as relationship building and customer retention.

Instead, the two modes of marketing work together to both encourage sales spikes (e.g. via discount or promotion) and to raise base sales step by step through brand-building activities.

And the latter should get more investment, Binet and Field write. Short-term marketing goals should get 40 percent of investment, and long-term marketing goals should get 60 percent, they advise.

Skewing that equilibrium has disastrous results, says Tom Roach, VP of brand strategy at Jellyfish. When a brand leans too heavily on short-term sales activation goals, “short-term sales peaks could get lower and base sales could drop over time,” Roach writes. “It’s a cautionary tale that you may have witnessed, for example with the arrival of a new CEO or CMO who ‘doesn’t believe in doing brand marketing’.”

In other words, chasing short-term goals will get you short-term sales at the expense of brand equity, reputation and customer lifetime value.

Set Realistic Milestones and Track Them With Data

At this point, it’s time to have frank conversations with the rest of the executive team about shared visions for achieving business goals. The book “Crucial Conversations” by Stephen R. Covey, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler offers a helpful framework for doing this.

From here, you can map out clear and realistic milestones, as well as what factors might accelerate or impede progress toward those milestones.

What those milestones are will depend on the type of business and what stage of maturity it’s in. For example, imagine a promising three-year-old startup that’s just closed a Series B round. It has a redesigned website and active social channels, but no blog content to attract anything other than own-name organic traffic.

If that company’s sales pipeline has grown lean, then one tactic would be to start publishing weekly blog posts. The inbound marketing funnel could then be further grown so the company could begin to identify prospects and qualify leads.

There are two further points to emphasize here:

  • Realistic expectations. Be clear about challenges from the beginning. In the example above, there are factors beyond the team’s control that could impede progress toward the agreed-upon milestone. Operational hiccups might interrupt the weekly cadence of blog posting, for example, or a change to Google’s algorithm could skew short-term SERPs.
  • Track milestones with data. Make sure to focus on leading indicators such as site impressions, traffic, leads and proposals. If you track lagging indicators such as revenue or profit, you’ll end up with a distorted picture of marketing effectiveness — and a frustrated executive team.

The Lesson for CMOs

There are many things a CMO has no control over — market conditions, budgets, the egos of other members of the leadership team.

The best you can do is create a plan to navigate internal relationships to ensure marketing activities have every chance of creating impact.

Images by: ThisisEngineering RAEng, Christina @