Does Marketing Belong in the C-Suite?

August 31, 2022

On the marble and shag-pile carpet level of the corporate headquarters, there are four corner offices, each assigned to an executive.

Between them sits a large conference room, replete with mahogany-topped table, leather chairs, and a wet bar, a bustle of executive assistants, and a sprawling multi-function print center.

The four corners belong to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and Chief Operations Officer (COO).

Everything of importance that the company does falls, via one reporting line or another, beneath these four.

The date is … sometime in the last century.

Today, at most businesses, things look a little different.

While there are still luxurious executive suites in the headquarters of many large companies, smaller—and more progressive—enterprises have done away with many of those trappings, their executives preferring not to emphasize the difference between life at the top and life on the front lines.

More significantly, however, there are new contenders for the premium offices.

Domains that were previously considered subordinate to the “big four”—or which simply didn’t exist before—have grown in importance, demanding a seat at the top table.

Titles like Chief People Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Customer Officer, and Chief Information Officer have graduated from humble beginnings as the directors of human resources, sales and marketing, customer service, and investor relations.

But one set of responsibilities has risen further and faster in recent years: the Chief Marketing Officer.

Does marketing belong in the C-suite?

Here’s a little history and a dose of current reality to help make the case.


The Rise and Rise of the CMO

According to the 2017 Harvard Business Review article, The Evolution of the CMO, the Chief Marketing Officer title was first used in the 1990s as marketing channels diversified beyond print, radio, and television and the role of the marketing leader took on more strategic responsibilities and corporate significance.

This was about the same time that the first B2B marketers appeared in a function hitherto dominated by direct-to-consumer advertising.

In the 2000s, social media entered the fray and companies ceased to be the only authoritative source of information about their products.

Peer-driven decision-making and customer-centric marketing evolved, and marketers began focusing on building relationships with prospects and customers.

By the 2010s, the era of personalized communication and data analytics demanded marketing leadership that drove customer engagement and the application of customer insights.

Today, with business operations increasingly driven by the customer, rather than being product-led, and business communication adapting to the noisy, democratized world of the internet, the CMO role has matured into an executive level position, reporting directly to the CEO.


Content marketing is mission critical for B2B companies in the Information Age

Is Marketing Really Mission Critical?

The four horsemen—CEO, CFO, CTO, and COO—are responsible for critical business functions. Developing the solution, making and delivering it efficiently, and counting the beans have always lain at the heart of any great enterprise.

Today, however, there is no business without online engagement.

If your company, brand, and products aren’t discoverable and recognizable online, it’s as though you don’t exist.

You’re like a traditional manufacturing business without a storefront, or an eighties business without a cold-calling, Rolodex spinning sales team.

But this isn’t your grandparents’ product-driven, mass marketing world, nor your parents’ era of cable TV infomercials and unsolicited phone calls (with caller ID riding to their rescue.)

This is the Information Age, where everything anyone wants to know about anything is discoverable via Google.

Buying something for personal consumption involves filtering through the millions of products available on Amazon or Google Shopping, checking some online reviews, and typing in a credit card number.

Visiting a brick-and-mortar store either feels like a luxurious, throw-back experience or an intrusive waste of time.

Buying something for a business is rapidly heading in the same direction.

With a generation of digital natives moving into the purchasing seats across industry, their expectations are for end-to-end customer experiences that look a lot like Amazon.

The last thing they want to do is deal with a salesperson.

They expect to research, evaluate, and purchase your products and services online—perhaps tolerating a brief (it had better be efficient) human interaction at the end to sort out some situation-specific details.

What does this have to do with the CMO? Almost everything.

The information those buyers expect to find that helps them home in on the right solution for their business doesn’t appear out of nowhere.

Content marketing is the creation and publication of specific types of information to attract and engage buyers from businesses likely to purchase your company’s products or services.

Without it, your business might as well not exist—especially if your competitors have embraced the content marketing approach.

That last part is important.

With the tidal wave of digitalization breaking over the B2B shoreline, every sector is being transformed.

Companies that get their content marketing act together will thrive. Those that don’t will struggle. They might not even survive. This is an existential threat.

Against that backdrop, content marketing is indeed mission critical.

And that mission critical responsibility elevates the CMO position into the C-suite, where collaboration between the CEO and CMO is critical to the success of content marketing.

Their partnership must be efficient and productive. There are important balances to be struck between a lack of ownership and micromanagement on the part of the CEO and between operating at too abstract or too detailed a level in the role of CMO.

The CMO needs a solid understanding of the company’s purpose, mission, vision, corporate objectives, and points of differentiation. They are important foundations on which the CMO must build the company’s marketing plans.

A CEO needs guidance from the CMO on branding and marketing initiatives that are best suited to accelerating and sustaining the company’s journey toward its vision. This includes real-time updates and recommended adjustments in response to industry trends, customer behavior, and competitor activities.

The CEO-CMO relationship must therefore be bidirectional and collaborative. They need each other’s support and guidance. They depend on one another to achieve the company’s objectives and to deliver the expected business results.


What Does the Future Hold for the CMO?

Time will tell how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the CMO role.

The shift toward hybrid and remote working has further heightened the importance of content marketing—since buyers are compelled to do more of their research and evaluation online.

This implies that the overall significance of marketing, and therefore the strategic nature of the CMO role, has been amplified even further.

Today, scope that can be attributed to a CMO position has become so broad that it creates confusion.

Is the CMO’s primary responsibility to the brand, the customer, growing sales, or the bottom line?

And, where does sales—once the darling of B2B operations—fit in this picture?

This has led to new titles emerging, such as Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Customer Officer, as the growing influence of marketing spills beyond one person’s plate and subdivides into more specialized areas.

Nevertheless, the critical role that marketing plays—and will continue to play—firmly cements the CMO’s claim to a fifth corner on the executive floor.

Thankfully, we’re not constrained to four-cornered buildings, or even buildings at all, anymore.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock


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