The CMO’s Periodic Table

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How many CMOs have you really spoken to and not just “shared a large dimly lit conference room with” as you presented work you hoped would help the agency win the account and maybe you keep your job? Probably many, but probably not sixty-four. (And if it is sixty-four, we are honored that you are reading this right now. Please call us immediately.)

So the opportunity afforded by Drew Neisser’s The CMO’s Periodic Table is a terrific one, as it gives us, in more or less their own words, not just the central stories and case studies of the marketing leaders of literally dozens of companies large and small; It also gives us an insight into how these leaders think, and how that differs and doesn’t differ from the dozens of other executives in precisely the same shoes.

Compiled by Neisser, CEO and founder of Renegade Marketing and publisher of SocialMediaExplorer.com, these 64 interviews are arranged not by industry, category or discipline, but around a sort of marketing “periodic table” that Neisser has devised. By arranging them this way, Neisser is able to mix and match them, explain their “elemental” importance, and turn the collection from simply a random compendium of conversations into a really valuable tool for understanding the state of marketing today.

In other words, there’s some really great stuff here.

Like this from Dan Marks, CMO at First Tennessee Bank at the time of the interview (now CMO at Hancock Bank), which expresses a subtlety about this business that frankly is lost on most marketing people:

“Our goal is not to create awareness. Our goal is to get people to buy stuff and generate revenue. We have to understand the buying process. We have to understand if we’re having trouble getting people to buy stuff, is it because awareness is low? Do they not know about the product, or are they trying it but not repeating it?”

Or this from Elissa Romm, VP B2B Marketing at Mastercard, which echoes, in a way, what Gillian Tett observed in her book The Silo Effect (which we reviewed here):

“Don’t create a siloed culture for marketing. Marketing must be seen as integral to driving business results, and culture clashes are often a reason that marketing isn’t internally perceived as a business driver.”

Or this from Jonathan Becher, CMO & CDO at SAP which should be nailed to forehead of everyone in business, regardless of industry:

“For all good business leaders, there comes a day when you realize, ‘What got us here won’t get us where we need to go.’”

Or this from Barbara Goodstein, former CMO at Vonage and current CEO at Tiger 21 Holdings, which we wish would be explained to every future brand manager before they’re allowed to have their MBA:

“I also think that approval by committee is the death of a campaign. You end up with mediocre work that way.”

Each interview is prefaced with an introductory paragraph which provides some context. And each interview is followed by a series of “key takeaways” and a suggestion for further reading. The actual interviews themselves are what one might call “fun-sized” – both because CMOs tend to be very busy and because a collection of 64 lengthy interviews would make the book unwieldy and impractical. All of which makes for a book one can dip into and out of easily.

But that’s also the drawback. For there are times the CMOs drift into platitudes and clichés and one wishes for more push back and prodding from Mr. Neisser. Or conversely they touch on a fascinating topic that they are clearly warming to, one that would benefit from more exploration and discussion, but, because of the straightjacket of the form is left at a frustratingly superficial level.

But nothing in marketing is perfect, and those disappointments don’t detract from the overall value of the book which is full of insights and observations few of us would be likely to get if left to our own devices.

And speaking of being left to one’s own devices, one cannot read The CMO’s Periodic Table without noticing how many of the featured marketers are no longer with the company they were with when Neisser interviewed them. This is no complaint against the author, who conducted the interviews over a five-year period. It’s more an observation about the transitory nature of marketing itself. Recently the Wall Street Journal reported about a study that showed that CMO tenures had slipped from 48 months to 44. That’s slightly over three and a half years.

Which begs the question, who can get anything meaningful done for a major company in three and a half years?

Even if they have as valuable a tool as this at their side?

The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing by Drew Neisser was published by New Riders on 11/29/15 – order it from Amazon here, or Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).

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