A client of ours met recently with 25 of his peers. They’re all senior brand and marketing strategists at major U.S. corporations. They were talking about the lack of continuity at the top of their organizations.
They took a poll. Out of the 26 of them, 23 of them have experienced a change in CEO or CMO in the past 18 months. That means that only about 12 percent of them have been working with the same CEO and CMO for more than 18 months.
The national average is marginally better. The average tenure of a Fortune 500 company CEO was 9.7 years in 2013. Meanwhile, the average tenure of a CMO is just 45 months. (That’s nearly double where the average tenure was as recently as 2006, when it was 23.2 months.)
Doing the math, about 15% of CEOs and 40% of CMOs will change each year and a half. That’s 55% of companies changing the CEO or CMO over 18 months. While it’s better than the 88% figure tallied at our client’s meeting, it’s still incredibly troubling.
How is a brand to survive the churn among the executives ultimately responsible for stewarding and safeguarding it? Brand leadership needs to come from the top. But when there are constant changes at the top, the brand often suffers damage. The new leadership may have different opinions of the brand’s attributes or value. Or they may want to “put their own stamp” on the brand as evidence that a new era is dawning for the company or product. Their well-intentioned changes overlook who truly defines the brand: consumers.
Like lifeguards on alert during high tide, senior marketing professionals and agencies must come to the brand’s rescue. They need to be prepared for directives from above that could derail an established brand strategy and brand-building effort. Here are some thoughts on how to be ready.
- Have recent research and data to support your assertions and positions. Know your customers’ perceptions of the brand and how it has evolved (and hopefully improved) over time. Quantify the value of the brand over competitors or generics – give it tangible worth like a true asset.
- Forge alignment with other company departments. The brand needs to live outside of marketing. It needs to have meaning across HR, operations, sales, finance and more. Make sure senior leadership there understands their roles in bringing the brand to life. And brief new additions to the leadership team as their ranks turn over.
- Don’t let campaigns drive strategy. At our client’s roundtable meeting, many of his colleagues complained that the CMO brought a “campaign” to the table that was inconsistent with the established strategic approach. Or the CEO wants to establish new “core initiatives.” Always push the conversation back to strategy and make sure that the new ideas will add to it rather than erode it. Do what you can to link the new directives with the core brand strategy.
Equip yourself for the inevitable. Given the frequency of CEO and CMO change, there is no excuse to be surprised when new leadership challenges the brand. The best defense if a good offense. Gather research and data, enlist support across departments and work diligently to defend strategy. You will be doing the brand (and company) a great service.
Of course, a new CEO or CMO could bring to the company with a deep reverence for the brand, embracing its legacy and heritage. Importantly, they could understand their role to carry the torch and further strengthen the brand during their tenure whether it lasts 18 months or 18 years.
That would be very refreshing, indeed.