Should CMOs own product development?

We ask CMOs their views on whether product development should be part of their remit in the modern age of customer centricity

Marketers often talk about the distinction between consumer and B2B marketing when it comes to tactics and strategy, as well as individual background. Yet what leaders on both sides of the fence usually share is a history of roles in product management and marketing.

This raises an interesting question: As a CMO of either a consumer or B2B brand, should you also own product development? Or should this be designated a separate and complementary c-level title, the ‘chief product officer’, as is the case at Fairfax Metro Media, after it appointed Sigrid Kirk as its first dedicated CPO last year?

One clear reason for owning product development is the customer-centric nature of business today. As the voice and direct link to the customer, CMOs are in a unique position to also help craft products that meet those customer needs in a responsive way. As the CMO of digital media marketing vendor FreeMonee, Jim Taschetta, points out in a recent article for <i>ClickZ</i>, product is one of the four traditional ‘Ps’ of marketing, and product management is therefore a marketing function. CMOs should own this as a way of driving product development, he said.

According to brand and communications consultant at Honeycomb, Janet Fizpatrick-Wilks, all CMOs must be integral to product design. “The product must meet people’s needs, is an interface between the company and consumer, and a critical part of their brand experience. How can marketing not be ‘hands on'?” she asked.

“I don't necessarily believe the CMO should manage product development, but they should have a seat at the top table as one of the development team. I've previously worked in an organisation where this was not the case and the products failed to keep up with market expectations - with predictable and painful results.

“Great CMOs should be operating at an enterprise and c-suite level, and as CMO/CIO alliances grow this is likely to become more common. Maybe it's time to change CMO to CBO [chief brand officer].”

Former Commonwealth Bank CMO, Andy Lark, agreed marketing chiefs should be at the centre of product development. “They should be the voice of the customer and be responsible for defining the customer archetypes and then synchronising the brand experience across digital, social, marketing, online, mobile and product,” he said.

For McDonald's Canada CMO, Joel Yashinsky, who has spent the past 15 years with the global food giant, marketing and sales have always had a responsibility in developing products. For example, as a direct result of the marketing team’s ‘Our foods, your questions’ campaign, the team has been able to suggest a range of new food items for its menus based on what customers are asking for.

“When you’re talking strategy and growth of the business, marketing has a big responsibility,” Yashinksy said. “At McDonald's, we have a direct correlation in driving guests to our restaurants, and making sure they are served in a way that makes them come back more often. But we also have to make sure we are bringing forth the products they want.

“In my role, it makes sense [to play a strategic role in product development] in terms of understanding the customer needs and focusing on what they want, as well as the brand impact and then marketing/sales impact. In Canada, our CEO leads the charge and drives the bus, then roles like mine are important in developing what products customers want based on research, our menu team in terms of what’s available, and providing information on what the customer is looking for.

“They all tie together in a natural progression for us at McDonald's to have marketing play a big role in development of new products and categories.”

Vodafone Hutchison Australia’s CMO, Kim Clarke, said ensuring the quality of the telco’s products and services was one of the two key customer-oriented pillars of her strategy to turn the brand around.

“Brand and marketing/communication are just one part of my role – there’s also product, as well as P&L,” she said. “Making sure you have products that are measured upon customer experience is something I’m incredibly passionate about at a personal level.

“You could say the network isn’t mine, but it is because it impacts the brand.”

CMO at US-based einvite, Paul Becker, cited an example from one tech company hiring both a CMO and CPO as an indication of the importance both roles represent, but also advised constant collaboration.

“The CMO [in this example] was responsible for ‘all revenue producing opportunities’. Obviously you can't have revenue without product, however I think the point is clear,” he said. “There would be a lot of collaboration between the two positions.” In this case, the VPs responsible for customer experience, customer feedback and business intelligence reported to the CMO.

“I have been in a number of roles where there were two peers, one who focused on product development, and someone else who handled business intelligence and market research, with a lot of collaboration,” Becker added.

PGi’s senior vice-president of strategy and marketing, Melissa Wong, also has product strategy as part of her regional role and said her experience in product management has given her the tools to take a holistic view at the software-as-a-service collaboration provider. The fact that the company’s product development is tied to technology, and Wong’s background is with companies that develop technology, has also helped her understand customers in a different way.

“Without the pillars of product marketing, program development, digital, pricing and product management and development, I wouldn’t be as successful,” she claimed.

The local PGI’s focus on product has led to an increase in Asia-Pacific customer requirements being added to its product line’s features in the last two years. “That’s because of the product team and my evangelism, team execution and IT’s job,” she added.

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