An Open Letter To CMOs, Part 1

Dear CMOs:

First and foremost, you have my utmost respect.

While I have never been a CMO myself, I do have a lot of real-world marketing (and advertising) experience, I was a featured writer for the CMO Network of Forbes for nearly 10 years, I have interviewed well over 2,000 leaders just like yourself, I coach and counsel CMOs and I have very close relationships with many of your peers.

So while having never served in the role per se, I know the role quite intimately. I know of the struggles and challenges you go through on a daily basis. Boy do I ever.

Ok, just wanted to set the table for those who I have not had the pleasure of getting to know. I like to joke that I collect CMOs like I used to collect sports cards. As a kid my brother Greg and I spent arguably just slightly less than the GNP of Sri Lanka on football, baseball, basketball and hockey cards.

Of course none of said cards still exist today else my brother and I would be living in the lap of luxury in, well, Sri Lanka.

But I digress.

So, what’s on my mind in this my first open letter (Part 1) to all of you talented, passionate, overworked, underpaid chief marketing officers?

In a word: Research.

Not long ago I was speaking with a CMO of Brand X and they were excitedly telling me about some consumer research they had just completed. They were so anxious to tell me of the findings, the percentages, the trends and all the other goodness that can come from market research.

After sharing the highlights of the research with me, they then proceeded to feel the need, or at least it seemed that way, to validate the findings by sharing with me other research that was very similar to theirs that showed many of the same results. “Look, the findings from this other survey aligns almost perfectly with ours.”

Finally, when there was a break in the action, AKA I could get a word in, I asked the CMO what they thought the research showed? What conclusions were they going to draw from it? Their answer floored me, almost literally.

  • “It’s obvious. We’re going to follow what the research shows from both our own study as well as the other one. We’re going to make changes ASAP based entirely off this. It’s a slam dunk!”

Well, as we all know not every slam dunk is, well… a slam dunk.

Moral of the Story:

Never, ever base ANY decision based solely off research.

It is extremely short-sighted and MUCH more importantly, it is extremely lazy. Yes, lazy. A good marketer should always be compelled to look “beyond the data, in this case research data.” For example were there extenuating circumstances beyond these particular findings? Was there a seasonal effect? A COVID effect?

There are types of things to consider but here is the single biggest one: One Size Does Not Fit All.

If it’s good enough for clothing, it’s good enough for market research.

Seriously, you should never merely look at data when making ANY decision let alone your marketing efforts and campaigns. If nothing else, you need to test to being to validate the findings. Which is precisely what I suggested this particular CMO do next.

Thank you for your time.


Steve Olenski, The CMO Whisperer

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