Five factors for achieving success as a VP Marketing or CMO

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The best VPs and Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) realize they never do it alone. Everything we do is through the greatness of other people. The success factors start with the idea that your people come first. You must bring a vision to the role, put the spotlight on your team, be an approachable leader and run the process and the numbers to ensure your people can focus on delivering what needs to happen.

If you are good at your role, you might not even need to do any marketing other than challenge and guide your people to do their best work. Your greatness comes from the greatness of your people. Invest in training your people as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged. At the VP Marketing level, it is more about people. The equation is simple: smarter people make amazing work that delivers outstanding results.

Quintessentially, rule #1 is you have to make the numbers. Your primary role is to create demand for your brands. You are paid to gain share and drive sales growth to help drive profit for the company. The results come from making the right strategic choices, executing at a level beyond competitors, and motivating your team to do great work. Making the numbers gives you more freedom on how you wish to run things. Without the numbers, the rest might not matter.

At the VP Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) level, success comes from your leadership, vision, and ability to get the most from your people.

The five success factors at the VP/CMO level include:

1. Your people come first

2. Run the process and the system

3. Be the visionary

4. Put the spotlight on your people 

5. Be a consistent, authentic, approachable leader

1. Your people come first

What many people miss is that people come first. At the VP Marketing and CMO level, I believe if you focus on your people, and the results will come. Smart people produce great work and in turn, outstanding results. It would help if you had a regular review of the talent with your directors. Build a system to provide feedback to everyone on the team, preferably quarterly.

Invest in training and development. 

Marketing Training should not be just learning on-the-job, but in the classroom, to challenge the thinking of your people and give them added skills to be better in their careers. Marketing fundamentals matter. Your people need to know how to strategic thinking, define their brand’s positioning statement, write a Brand Plan, write a Creative Brief, and judge advertising. Marketers are NOT getting the same development they did in prior generations. Investing in training, not only makes them better, but it also motivates them to know that you are investing in them.

2. Run the process and the system

The best VP Marketing should run the P&L and all the Marketing processes. You have to run the P&L and make investment choices. Bring an ROI and ROE (Return on Investment and Effort) mindset to those decisions. These choices will be one of the essentials to making the numbers and gaining more freedom in how you do the job. Regarding the process, it has always been my belief that smart processes in place—brand planning, advertising, creative briefs—should not restrict your people, but instead provide the right freedom to your people. Get your people to drive all their creative energy into great work that gets in the marketplace, not trying to figure out what slide looks cool in the brand plan presentation.

3. Be the visionary

The best VP Marketing brings a vision, not just for the direction of the brand but the inspiration for the team. Come up with a theme that taps into the purpose, beliefs, expectations, and the behaviors you will reward. You are now the Mayor of Marketing. What’s your campaign slogan? Get up, walk around, and engage with everyone on your team. You can make someone’s day, motivate and encourage them to deliver excellent work. Set a high standard, and when your team put an outstanding idea up for approval, and it is fundamentally sound, then approve it. Do not do the constant spin of fear. It makes you look indecisive and bureaucratic.

4. Put the spotlight on your people

The best VP Marketing lets their people own it and let them shine. It has to be about them, not you. Do not be the super-duper Brand Manager. By making all the decisions, you bring yourself down a level or two, and you take over their job. Instead of telling, start asking questions. Challenge your team and recognize the great work. It might be my own thing, but I never said: “thank you” because I never thought they were doing it for me. Instead, I said: “you should be proud” because I knew they were doing it for themselves.

5. Be a consistent, authentic, approachable leader

The best VP Marketing has an open door and make it easy for people to engage them. You have to set up an avenue where they can approach you and feel comfortable enough to communicate the good and bad. A hidden leader scares people. No one wants to share concerns or bad results, for fear of how you will react. Don’t get left in the dark. Open communication keeps you more knowledgeable. Get your people to challenge you. Inconsistent and unpredictable behavior by a leader does not “keep them on their toes.” It creates tension and inhibits creativity.

Be consistent in how you think, how you act in meetings, and how you approve. Leadership assumes “follower-ship.” Create an atmosphere that will make people want to go the extra mile for you. Once you show up ready to listen, you will be surprised how honest they will be and how much they will tell you.

The VP Marketing and CMO role can be very lonely

I remember when I first took the job as VP, I found it surprisingly a bit lonely. Everyone in marketing tries to be “on” whenever you are around. Moreover, you don’t always experience the “real” side of the people on your team. Just be ready for it. It takes a while to get used to the distance from your new peers (the head of sales, HR, operations, or finance). It is far greater than you might expect, and it may feel daunting at first.

Your peers hope you to run Marketing and let them run their functional area. Also, the specific problems you face, they might not appreciate or even understand the subtleties of the role. Your boss also gives you too much rope, which can be either good or bad. There will be less coaching than you had in prior positions. It is crucial for you to have a good mentor or even an executive coach to give you someone to talk with that understands your role.

This type of thinking can be found in our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

How Marketers can be better strategic thinkers

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

I always joke that strategic people share similar traits to those we might consider lazy, cheap or conniving. Rather than just dive into work, strategic people will spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking of all the possible ways for them to get more out of something, while you exert the least possible effort or waste their own money. After thinking of every possible option, strategic people have this unique talent to make a firm decision on the best way forward. They are great at debate because it appears they already know the other options you might raise, and they already know why that option will not work as well. And, the thing about strategic people, is they get away with it.

How to use smart strategic thinking in Marketing


Smart strategic thinkers see the right questions before they look for answers, while instinctual thinkers see answers before they even know the right question.

I see a big difference between strategic thinking and intuitive leaders. Strategic thinkers see ‘what-if’ type questions before they look for potential solutions. Have you ever been a meeting and heard someone say, “That’s a good question”? This is usually a sign someone has asked an interrupting question designed to slow everyone’s brain down, so they take the time to reflect and plan before they act, to force them to move in a focused and efficient way. Strategy is the thinking side of marketing, both logical and imaginative. Strategic people are able to map out a range of decision trees that intersect, to imagine how events will play out in the future. The risk is that if they think too long, they just spiral around, unable to decide. They miss the opportunity window.

How to use smart strategic thinking in Marketing

On the other hand, instinctual leaders just jump in quickly to find answers before they even know the right question. Their brains move fast, they use emotional impulse and intuitive gut feel. These people want action now and get easily frustrated by delays. They believe it is better to do something than sit and wait around. They see strategic people as stuck running around in circles, as they try to figure out the right question. Instead, they choose emotion over logic. This “make it happen” attitude gets things done, but if they go too fast, their great actions may solve the wrong problem. Without proper thinking and focus, an action-first approach might just spread the brand’s limited resources randomly across too many projects. Intuitive leaders can be a creative mess and find themselves with a long to-do list, unable to prioritize or focus.

How to use smart strategic thinking in Marketing

Brand leaders must learn how to change brain speeds.

They must move slowly when faced with difficult strategy and quickly with their best instincts on execution. A brand leader’s brain should operate like a racecar driver, slow in the difficult corners and go fast on the straightaway. You must slow down to think strategically. Did you ever think that the job might get in the way of thinking about how to do your job better? With wall-to-wall meetings, constant deadlines and sales pushes, you have to create your own thinking time.

Find your thinking time

You should block off a few hours each week, put your feet up on the desk, and force yourself to ask really difficult questions. Pick one problem topic for each meeting you book, and even invite a peer to set up a potential debate. The goal is not to brainstorm a solution, but to come up with the best possible question that will challenge the team. Even go for walks at lunch or a drive somewhere just to get away from it all. My best thinking never came at my desk in front of my computer. Too many marketers have their head down in the numbers they miss the obvious opportunities and threats that are right on the horizon. Strategic thinkers should assess, question and consider every element that can impact your business. Here is a simple 4-step process to run a strategic thinking meeting:

  1. Vision: Every brand and even every project should start with a longer-term vision that maps out the ideal state of where you want to go. Push yourself beyond the normal expectations. Always focus on ways to create a bond with your consumers to build a group of brand lovers.
  2. Situation: Brand leaders must know the immediate situation of the brand, so they can constantly analyze and assess the potential changes could happen with consumers, competitors, and channels that could impact the health and wealth of your brand. Without the deep and rich strategic thinking discipline, you risk moving too quickly on brand strategy, unable to see the insights that may be hidden beneath the surface. You solve the wrong problem. It is crucial to use the analysis to know how tight the bond you have created with consumers, to know where your brand sits on the brand love curve.
  3. Key Issues: Brand leaders must understand the issues in the way of the stated vision. This includes the drivers, inhibitors, risks and opportunities. Think of both immediate and longer-term issues. As stated, strategic thinkers see questions before they see solutions. In this process, frame the key issues as an interrupting and challenge question.
  4. Strategic direction: Strategies are answers to the questions that your situational analysis and key issues raised. They are never randomly selected. All this strategic thinking is wasted if you cannot make a decision. You should be an intellectual philosopher not a business leader. Do not tell yourself you are a good decision-maker if you come to a decision point and always choose both. The best brand leaders force themselves to focus. They use the word “or” more than they use the word “and”. Strategic thinkers never divide and conquer out of fear. They force themselves to make choices to focus and conquer.

Learn to change your brain speeds. Go slow with strategy and fast with execution.

To read more on How Marketers can be better strategic thinkers, click on this powerpoint presentation that forms one of our workshops. My hope is that it challenges you to think differently about your own brand situation:

Beloved Brands: We make brands stronger and brand leaders smarter.

We will unleash the full potential of your brand. We will lead a 360-degree assessment of your business, help you define your Brand Positioning, create a Big Idea that will transform your brand’s soul into a winning brand reputation and help you build a strategic Brand Plan everyone who works on the brand can follow.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on strategic thinking, brand analytics, brand planning, brand positioning, creative briefs and marketing execution.

To contact me, call me at 416 885 3911 or email me at

Beloved Brands Graham Robertson