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Five Lessons for All Marketers From the Departure of Coke's CMO

Coca-Cola has decided to eliminate the position of CMO in its organization. Former CMO Marcos de Quinto is off to retirement after nearly four decades with the company; instead of replacing him, Coke has created a chief growth officer role to lead both its customer and its commercial teams.

The CGO role will be held by Francisco Crespo, and it was created, according to Coca-Cola, as part of a restructuring, to turn the company into a "growth-oriented and consumer-centered" organization.

Although Coke hasn't explicitly blamed its former CMO for falling revenues (global sales fell from $48 billion in 2012 to $44.3 billion in 2016), we can surmise that the management shakeup was in part driven by declining revenues.

Here's what all marketers can learn from this shakeup.

1. Now is not the time to get comfortable

Coke isn't the only example of an organization looking to put Marketing on the chopping block. Some 30% of CEOs might fire their CMO in 2017, according to Forrester Research, for lacking the skills necessary to pull off digital business transformation.

The average tenure of CMOs in the US is now 4.1 years—half the average tenure of CEOs, and the shortest in the C-suite.

What's more, CMOs are first in the firing line if business growth targets are not met (followed closely by chief sales officers and chief strategy officers), an Accenture Strategy Study found.

2. Your investments are under greater scrutiny

There is a glimmer of hope in the midst of this turmoil: Marketing budgets are on the rise, up for three consecutive years, and climbing to up to 12% of company revenue, Gartner found. That budget, however, within the context of today's business pressures, signifies a large amount of trust in marketing leadership to drive tangible business results.

Full 80% of all B2B marketers are now tasked with driving revenue, yet barely one-third can demonstrate any credible financial results, according to Debbie Qaqish of the Pedowitz Group. Our own research at Allocadia found that only 21% of companies are able to fully measure Marketing's contribution to revenue.

And that is the crux of the problem: If CMOs cannot translate the role of Marketing into the only language that truly matters to the business—money and growth—we marketers cannot expect job security, respect, control, or confidence.

3. You're tasked with changing the perception of your role

As part of our ongoing work with marketing performance management, we are seeing across-the-board echoes the decision-making at Coke: Marketers are working to change the perception of their departments as cost-centers, to advance a perception of Marketing as growth-driver instead.

This is a new charter for CMOs, and it has the potential to help them earn a more strategic role within the company to make boarder, more disruptive decisions. But, to meet the demands of this charter, marketers must bridge the visibility gap between the activity they're generating and the returns they're driving.

In many ways, it's a matter of understanding both the "R" and the "I" of ROI: CMOs must be stewards of their investment and speak with confidence on the impact each dollar has—or could have. In short, they must run Marketing like a business.

4. It's time to run the business of marketing

The ability to operate a marketing department with a business owner's mindset can save a CMO from fading into futility. In fact, I'm willing to bet it's this shift that will save the profession as a whole.

A strict discipline is required behind the scenes within a marketing organization—behind the campaign, the creative, and the customer-facing tactics. This discipline focuses on a clear line of sight into all marketing investments, a unified approach to marketing planning, and tight, accurate, actionable measurements.

Without this discipline, and with too much focus on execution, Marketing becomes decentralized and disjointed, rendering it ineffective and leading it toward the chopping block.

Allison Snow, senior analyst at Forrester, describes the road ahead in her report titled " Measuring Isn't Managing: The New Rules of Marketing Performance Orchestration." She writes: "B2B marketers who don't opt in to revenue relevance will continue to build plans on 'what we did last year' rather than what has consistently demonstrated value to core, defined, and agreed-upon business targets."

5. Marketing operations has never been as important as it is now

Today, in this new context, CMOs are more dependent than ever before on critical members of their teams: those tasked with marketing operations and revenue operations.

The practice of managing budgets, tracking investments, and tying activity back to revenue is one of process, data, and technology. This highly strategic role falls squarely onto a marketing operations practitioner who is in close alignment with Marketing leadership, and focuses on three distinct areas: a go-to-market plan, investment management, and targets.

Each of the three functions must be aligned across the revenue teams, as well as up and down the rest of the organization:

  1. Go-to-market plan: What are our goals, and what will we do to accomplish them?
  2. Investment management: How are we going to spend our money to reach the goals set out in our plan?
  3. Targets: What results must we drive (and measure) to assure we are on track to beat market expectations?

Revenue operations is used to evaluate the impact of Marketing and Sales, in turn enabling a CMO to understand ROI and translate the story of performance in terms of business results.

When a CMO is equipped to run the business of marketing, that CMO can make confident investment decisions that drive growth—the ultimate responsibility of every CMO. Coca Cola is no exception.


  • by Stacie Anderson Fri May 12, 2017 via web

    Coke needs to change their image. Right now they are known as the unhealthy product that doesn't care about consumers. Yes, enough people have caught on to make a difference. Not sure who any marketing leader can chance public opinion without a complete overhaul of the company product line. I know personally, I would never consume a coke product because I am health conscious. Even their water products are on the toxic side.

    As I tell my organization, we've got to fix our product line before I can launch a big campaign. That first impression is everything.

  • by John Goodman Mon May 15, 2017 via web

    Your article is on target but you miss a major problem in most companies, both B2C and B2B, which is that marketing and sales cause up to 30% of all customer dissatisfaction by incorrectly setting expectation and, failing to effectively onboard customers. I actually saw that at a major soft drink company a decade ago.

    We also find that customer problems with marketing and sales cause up to 4 X as much damage to loyalty and word of mouth because customers assume they are intentionally being misled. One solution is to apply quality and customer experience analysis to marketing processes - see my blog post on Quality Applied to Marketing -

  • by Stephen Barnard Wed May 17, 2017 via web

    All good points! - and now can anyone please explain how "that" Heineken video ad got signed off?

  • by Maurice Big Mo Flynn Fri May 19, 2017 via web

    Good call to action for CMOs but recommended tactics seem tad behind the curve - may be wrong - how does your software help?

  • by Peter Saridakis Fri May 19, 2017 via web

    It's not the person or the role that is an issue--it's the brand (product) that person in the role has to market knowing the consumer has voted with their taste and it is that sugar drinks are NOT healthy.

  • by Lorato Fri May 19, 2017 via mobile

    I definitely agree that it is a wake up call to those who have been thinking Marketing is about placing nice Billboards and not accountable to their creative work . However it doesn't matter what they label you or the position, if you have a commercial portfolio you must produce results. That is the bottom line .

  • by Jill Brennan Mon May 22, 2017 via web

    Thanks for the article Sam. Some interesting observations and it seems to me that many of them relate to how big corporates think about marketing. Most small businesses are already focused on getting returns for their marketing spend, they can't justify it otherwise. Unlike big businesses, most smaller companies don't aim to win awards with their advertising or do a lot of 'brand building' activities, they want and need results.
    Coke is an interesting example because they don't directly sell to end users. I think that is a big part of their problem - they are disconnected from consumers and too focused on the product. And they don't seem to want to change.

  • by Moeletsi Nkau-Molatlhwa Wed Jun 28, 2017 via mobile

    Marketing activities are not confined to a department as Quality First become your own product and know your product to be a good marketer

  • by Edwin Korver Fri Jul 14, 2017 via web

    Some remarks: you state that 30% of CEO's intent to fire their CMO because of their lack of digital skills.

    So why not replace them with .. a Chief Growth Hacker?

    Customer centricity implies a focus on the most profitable customers, a shift towards inbound marketing, a battle for the share of wallet and building intimate customer relationships. This per definition is a sales job.

    So why not replace the CMO with .. a Chief Customer Officer?

    Retention is about reducing churn or - in case of Coke - reducing the number of 'died' customers. But data shows that Coca-Cola benefits far more from growing its customer base (growing market share), than from increasing the buying frequency (share of wallet). The conclusion - based on data - would make sense to continue the product centric route, extend the outbound strategy, and grow relative penetration.

    So why not replace the CMO with .. a Chief Data Analyst?

    Maybe .. Coke has been triggered by the 'success' of Customer Success (integrating multiple customer facing disciplines in one customer success agent, obsessed with helping customers to achieve their goals) and read between the lines; that this success - relative to their business - isn't so much about helping customer achieve their goals, but about making one C-level officer responsible of all business-to-consumer interactions, regardless of touchpoint, silo, culture and so on?

  • by Jeannie Lewis Sun Jul 23, 2017 via mobile

    I think saying renaming not eliminating makes more sense- marketing is the grower role...

  • by colin Morris Mon Jul 24, 2017 via web

    If Coke was health(ier) to drink there would be no problem for the CMO given their budgets.
    A great campaign or greater process accountability or shiny new title will not make a toxic product great.
    Change the product AND then the title role in that order.
    By Colin Morris - Creative Pitch doctor across Africa.

  • by Matt P. Mon Nov 27, 2017 via web

    Echoing some of the comments below, the problem is not with the CMO himself, nor Marketing as a field. The problem is the Company. Therefore, no marketing campaign, or Ux concoction can radically change public opinion on a product that in truth, serves no purpose.

    For example, Fast Food sales have achieved record growth this year, even though the public is educated on the negative side-effects of eating too many Macs and Tacos etc. Why? People need to eat, and millions of people eat on a tight budget. But people do not need to drink Soda.
    ...unless they live in an underdeveloped country, as one reader commented, where Coke is safer and cheaper to buy and drink than water.

    What we have here is essentially a case of scapegoating: the CMO was the easiest and quickest "solution" to a problem that is ingrained from the CEO throughout the Company. Coke and Pepsi are essentially becoming the Kodaks of the industry.

    This is not a Doomsday scenario, just because Coca Cola lives in denial and axed its CMO.
    It is therefore misleading to imply that suddenly all marketers need to reassess their existence, the purpose of their field, and the role in which they play. Just look at Budweiser. They understood that they can sell more beer by showing us horses and puppies, rather than preaching "we are the king of beer". Look at Apple's rebirth under Steve Jobs' watch.

    The marketing field is fine, it just needs to constantly adapt and be dynamic, integrating clever and creative traditional methods with innovative digital tools and media venues, for the sake of creating engaging User Experiences that drive sales, retention, and growth.