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strategy and business
 / Summer 2003 / Issue 31(originally published by Booz & Company)


Bring on the Super-CMO

  • They must be able to spot business trends early, from the analysis of large amounts of market, competitor, and operational data;
  • They must be experienced in developing both media plans and business plans that deliver on company financial goals;
  • They need to be able to draw subtle insights from research on the underlying motivations for customer behavior;
  • They must have the capability to direct ad agencies and other partners to develop and execute a brand positioning consistent with target customer understanding; and
  • They need to be secure enough intellectually to stand up for the answer that is right for the business while also being able to build consensus with team members across departments on the future direction of that business.

The creation of strategic marketers is not a feat of genetic engineering. In fact, they already exist at many companies, although they may be in short supply. At IBM, such people are referred to as “Big M” marketing executives, and they are specifically distinguished from “small m” staff, who have less turf and a narrower perspective — typically limited to communications or even to a single discipline, such as Web marketing or public relations.

Not surprisingly, many “Big M” types, with backgrounds in consulting, have recently been put in senior roles. The ranks include Anil Menon, who was both a professor at Emory University’s graduate business school and a consultant before being named vice president of corporate brand strategy and worldwide market intelligence at IBM, reporting to Abby Kohnstamm, senior vice president of marketing. Other examples include Dell Computer Corporation’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael George and the heads of several ad agencies — Young & Rubicam’s Michael Dolan and Modem Media’s Marc Particelli among them.

Finding people with the full “Big M” skill set is not easy, but it can be done. Usually these people have had a series of experiences that have helped them become strategic marketers. Take Jim Schroer, for example. The executive vice president for global sales and marketing at DaimlerChrysler North America, Mr. Schroer started in automotive product marketing at STP, the fuel and oil additives company. He did two stints in consulting in the 1980s and the 1990s, where he focused on business strategy for marketing-intensive companies. He left consulting first to take responsibility for sales and marketing at RJR Nabisco. He departed the second time to become vice president of global marketing at Ford Motor Company, leaving there to take the DaimlerChrysler role.

At both auto companies, Mr. Schroer has played an important part in developing the company’s strategic brand platforms; he is also well known throughout the industry as a strong proponent of decentralization — of shifting marketing spending authority to the field — and of greater accountability for marketing ROI. Last year, Mr. Schroer was central to the Chrysler Group’s decision to consolidate marketing and product planning into three vehicle brand teams — Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge. This move created a single marketing leader for each brand team who oversees both the “more strategic” product-planning resources and the “more tactical” marketing communication and dealer marketing resources.

Strategic marketers can also come from within the organization, and they do not have to have a background in management consulting. Consider Jim Firestone. As president of corporate operations and, previously, senior vice president for strategy and marketing at the Xerox Corporation, Mr. Firestone is one of a growing number of executives at leading companies responsible for both corporate-level strategy and marketing. Mr. Firestone started his career in the finance organization at American Express Company and rose to become the head of Amex Japan. In Japan, he worked closely with a consulting firm on a country strategy that involved the systematic analysis of the target customer, value proposition, and business economics for a series of product lines (Gold Card, Green Card, etc.). He also worked intimately with direct-marketing wizard Lester Wunderman and a team from advertising agency McCann Erickson Hakuhodo on marketing tactics to grow these businesses profitably.

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