Thursday, August 2nd, 2018 | 5 min read
When you’re running the marketing arm of an enterprise, your main objective is to build a strong following for your brand. This means touting the benefits and applications of your products as much as possible. Pretty standard across the board, right?
The question is, what innate qualities empower CMOs to stand out from the pack, build influence, and share their company’s story in innovative and compelling ways?
Different leaders have different leadership styles. To explore the styles that top CMOs employ, we partnered with Forbes to compile The World’s Most Influential CMOs list for 2018.
To begin, we looked at the 500+ brands included in the Brand Finance 2016 List and Forbes’ Most Valuable Brands List 2016. From these lists, we isolated the brands with designated CMOs or other similar roles. In the end, we had 438 CMOs in the study, from which we selected 50 as Most Influential.
After analyzing the data, we found two main categories CMOs fall under: Settlers and Nomads.
When we talk about settlers in this instance, we mean marketing leaders who focus their efforts on one area – their brand.
These leaders may already have a large following thanks to previous roles, or they may benefit from being the spokesperson of a large enterprise. Either way, when they talk, people listen.
Settler-style CMOs use influence to promote their companies, but that doesn’t mean they just robotically tweet out company news. Instead, settler CMOs build reputations as thought leaders in their fields and in the professional world at large. This often stems from weighing in – across social and other key channels – on marketing, technology, digital trends, and other important topics.
Their goal is to be viewed as a subject matter expert with wisdom worth following. And as that wisdom reaches more and more people, there will be a larger audience in place when a CMO does send out a piece of regular company-focused news.
As an example, Nina Bibby, CMO of O2 frequently posts news and updates about the brand, as well as discussing issues that the brand supports. O2 has created materials to teach parents and children how to harness the internet safely. Nina shares this information with her followers in a way that is helpful rather than just being self-promotional. This garners attention for important topics while keeping O2 relevant in the conversation.
Unlike the settlers, CMO nomads use their influence to bring awareness to topics outside the scope of their businesses.
Everybody has interests outside of work. Nomads bring their out-of-office passion projects to the forefront, taking advantage of large audiences while driving important dialogues. Such leaders often have a topic that’s particularly important to them, such as sustainability, diversity in business, or social issues such as gender parity.
CMO nomads typically follow influencers in these fields and share content from their own channels, further broadcasting the message.
Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Manager at Unilever, is a well known social evangelist. He has held major media brands accountable for the spread of fake news and offensive content, and is a champion of sustainability. He uses his public platform to raise awareness of key social issues and lend his support when possible.
The caveat for brands is that when a CMO speaks out on a certain topic, it will likely be associated with the brand. As long as that topic aligns well with brand values, this shouldn’t be an issue. Still, there are plenty of examples of companies catching flak for the causes they support.
While there are influential CMOs in each of these camps, the CMOs with the highest levels of influence incorporate the best of both worlds. The highest-ranked CMOs receive media coverage that relates to their brand, as well as coverage that’s connected to other topics. Lower-ranked CMOs, on the other hand, tend to receive only brand-focused coverage.
That being said, there’s no set formula for success. Taco Bell’s CMO Marisa Thalberg is one of the most-covered CMOs in the media. Of that coverage, 77% relates back to Taco Bell. So, did the settler strategy win in this instance, or is it that people just really like tacos?
In the end, your own leadership style should be just that – your own! Be authentic in all that you do. If you’re passionate about causes that align with your brand’s values, lend your voice to those causes. If you just want to talk about marketing, that’s cool too. And if your employer just so happens to be giant taco franchise, chances are you’ll be fine either way.
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