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  • Lou Killeffer

Trust - the Challenges CMOs Face Today

From an interview with Perpetual Insights

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the CMO these days? How do you work with your client’s executive team to get the most out of their marketing?

The single biggest challenges facing CMOs today are two entirely unrelated dynamics dealing with trust.

Specifically, the collapse of professional trust between CMOs as clients and their advertising agencies; and far more damaging, the strategic erosion of personal trust between the majority of consumers and so many previously well-regarded brands.

The agency issue is particularly disheartening given the opportunities and success I’ve always enjoyed with so many agency colleagues and our client partners. However, it’s an ongoing issue with any number of age old scapegoats – the shift from commission to fee-based compensation (which may have reduced agency income over time by a third), the rise of client procurement, the advent of agency networks as independent shops became holding company cogs, the impact of programmatic media buying, the drift from serving clients to delivering numbers, the industry’s painfully slow adaption to digital, an apparent lack of transparency – the list, and finger pointing, goes on and on…

What is agreed is the deterioration has now been underway for decades, dramatically complicating the CMO’s incredibly challenging job, and fueling the trend toward in-house agencies. It’s a dynamic Ken Auletta does an excellent job unpacking in his new book Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (And Everything Else) my review of which you can find here Frenemies.

But the far more instructive issue of trust for CMOs concerns the evolving relationship between brands and consumers – and convincing companies that sustainable growth means inviting the consumer in and becoming truly consumer centric.

A long time ago, Peter Drucker said “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” And if there’s a more concise or compelling definition of the crux of consumer centricity I’ve yet to find it. Still the well intentioned leaders of companies can often lose their focus and their way. In managing to their goals, in directing the how, and securing the what, they somehow lose sight of the why. And by pursuing a laser like focus on the here and now, they can lose the way forward to their own future…

My work helps companies align behind a fact-based understanding of consumer centricity; what it is, what values and strategies support it, and how it’s made operational across the enterprise. Amazon’s a prime example. Consider their Leadership Principles which assert: "Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

I’ve found there are twelve defining characteristics common to all truly consumer-centric companies. Here are two, and you’ll find all twelve here Defining Characteristics of Consumer-Centric Companies...

1. As companies, they’re values based, with visibly active leadership, an overall orientation on people, and well-established measurement and feedback protocols in place.

2. Their corporate culture is limited to a few central themes, the bedrock of which is acknowledging the consumer comes first: that the company simply cannot succeed without them. Service is an acknowledged obsession as they work to create a long lasting, reciprocal relationship with their consumer, not just a series of transactions. As companies, they’re obsessed with the quality and delivery of their goods and services.

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