Time for CMOs to fulfil their destiny as thought leaders

In new research from Edelman and LinkedIn, only 14 per cent of decision-makers rate the thought leadership they typically encounter as very good or excellent.

Business-to-business marketers are suffering from a lack of genuine thought leaders within their organisations. The irony is they usually have a ready-made thought leader ideally suited to filling the gap and that person sits at the head of their department. Chief marketing officers (CMOs) are among the most underutilised assets in all of marketing.

Why do CMOs so often take a back seat to chief executives and their other C-suite colleagues when it comes to thought leadership? Could it be down to perceptions of marketing as peripheral to the core business? Do they fear that audiences will feel they are being sold to as soon as they see a senior marketer byline a post or appear in a video?

Whatever the reason, it’s likely to be costing their businesses because evidence of the value of high-quality thought leadership has never been greater and few other individuals within a business are so well placed to deliver it.

Thought leadership is a high-stakes game and you need your best players

The Edelman and LinkedIn research proves that genuine thought leadership does far more than just raise awareness. It delivers significant, measurable benefits all the way along the path to purchase and beyond.

More than half (54 per cent) of decision-makers say they use thought leadership as an important way to vet organisations they’re considering working with, 46 per cent had invited a company to bid on a project on the strength of their thought leadership and 49 per cent had awarded business on the basis of it. Once business had been awarded, 51 per cent say they had increased the amount of work they awarded to a supplier as a result of thought-leadership content.

If you were to design a role around the requirements of being an informed, engaging and insightful thought leader, it would look a lot like the CMO role now emerging

It’s not just the rewards of thought leadership that are significant, though. There are also substantial risks when thought leadership isn’t up to scratch. Of the decision-makers in the survey, 42 per cent say they had lost respect for an organisation as a result and 28 per cent had decided against awarding business because of poor thought leadership.

The high stakes make it essential for businesses to deploy their best-quality thought leadership whenever possible and that means getting the CMO involved.

How CMOs became natural thought leaders

The evolution of the CMO role in recent years places it at the intersection of business strategy and customer understanding. CMOs are ideally placed to express a visionary point of view, something 93 per cent of decision-makers describe as important in thought leadership. While relating this to issues that are highly relevant to a target audience, 60 per cent of decision-makers say they engage with content relating to what they’re currently working on.

Their increasingly close working relationship with chief information officers also enables CMOs to discuss hot technology topics, emerging trends and exciting opportunities to improve customer experience, and to do so in credible, no-nonsense layman’s terms.

For our quarterly LinkedIn Content Intelligence series, we recently analysed the content on LinkedIn that drives the greatest engagement among CMOs. The results provide a vivid snapshot of the broad range of thought-leadership issues now falling within CMOs’ remits.

They engage with the broader implications of emerging technologies from artificial intelligence to blockchain. They are natural authorities on data and privacy, personalisation and customer experience, crypto currencies and new business models. Last, but not least, there’s a growing overlap between expertise in marketing and active interest in finance, with startup strategies and venture-capital trends ranking high on the CMO agenda.

CMOs are not chief executives, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to carry the same recognition and instant authority. However, few other roles in a business have quite so much hands-on experience across different areas of strategy, and none combine this with the same in-depth insight into changing markets, customer expectations and the needs of key audiences.
If you were to design a role around the requirements of being an informed, engaging and insightful thought leader, it would look a lot like the CMO role now emerging. That’s why the future of the CMO is also the future of thought leadership. It’s time for senior marketers to embrace that destiny.

What top CMOs say

CMOs have a critical role to play as thought leaders. Marketing now sits at the epicentre of business strategy for an organisation and the customer experience and engagement strategies a company deploys will be the difference between success and failure. Marketing is the only function truly targeted at understanding market dynamics, anticipating market trends and thinking about how a company can and should respond. I personally share thought leadership content in the form of stories and insights via LinkedIn where I can get instant feedback on how ideas and stories land, and also through speaking engagements and online communities. The biggest challenge for CMOs is making the time to share, think, write, speak and engage in this way. However, I think we have to see that time as a key part of our role.

True thought leadership helps to cut through the jargon that’s often associated with the technology sector, and provide a clear and relatable vision for the audience. The CMO is pivotal in driving this, both as a thought leader themselves and by setting an example for the rest of the organisation. At Vodafone Business, we’ve focused our thought leadership on outcomes and helping customers understand the end-result of increasingly important technology decisions. By pushing this forward, I can help pitch thought leadership at the right level and avoid getting too technical, too early.

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