Why the CMO Should Own Strategy
Mari-Anne Kehler, Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer, Green Hasson Janks

Mari-Anne Kehler, partner and chief marketing and strategy officer, Green Hasson Janks, led the recent CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, Why the CMO Should Own Strategy, and discussed both why the CMO should own strategy and the necessary skills and steps to gain that seat at the table for those who don’t have it.

The keys to successful strategy involve asking a series of five questions, which Kehler drew from the book, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by Roger Martin.

  • What is our winning aspiration? This addresses our “why.”
  • Where do we play? This examines segmentation, targets, and geography.
  • How will we win? This looks at innovation, differentiation, and competition.
  • What are our capabilities? This addresses people and technology.
  • What systems do we need? This involves the measures and processes used.

“Think about those – they’re all in the marketing wheelhouse,” Kehler said. “This starts to make the claim as CMOs, if we don’t own strategy, we should be on the short list, at the table, helping make those decisions.”

At the same time, Kehler acknowledged not everyone with the CMO title has the same role. It will depend on how the organization sees and values the CMO role. She broke the CMO role into three categories.

The commercialization role, encompassing about 46 percent of CMOs, is one in which the CMO spurs sales through marketing communications. The CMO in this category is often responsible for advertising, digital content, social media, promotions and events.

The strategy role makes up about 31 percent of CMO positions. Here, the CMO designs the growth strategy, and is responsible for innovation, customer insight and analysis, and product design.

Finally, about 23 percent of CMOs are in the enterprise-wide P&L rolewhere the CMO delivers profitable growth by designing strategy and overseeing commercialization. CMOs in this role are responsible for innovation, product design, sales, distribution, pricing, and marketing communications.

“If you look at the definition of that enterprise-wide P&L role, a lot of the power within the decision making, and innovation, design and development resides within that zone,” Kehler said. “In a sense, aspirationally, (this) is a pretty good north star of where we might want to end up.”

For those CMOs who are working toward owning strategy, Kehler had several suggestions.

CMOs should own the customer experience. Knowing the customer will be central to planning strategy, she said. Talking to the customer, as well as gaining a deep understanding of the organizations goals and what goes into sales, are key.

CMOs should be integral in evaluating data, measures and results. “The power of being able to own, interpret, and communicate feedback directly from clients, client data, what measures and KPIs are important, is unbelievably powerful within an organization,” she said.

Ensure you have “the right data,” however. “Lots of data isn’t always the goal,” Kehler said. It’s important to understand, based on the customer experience, what is the right data to measure. Understand how to follow that data and then use it to persuade and innovate within your organization, she said.

Last, CMOs should own the storytelling experience. This is the marriage of a data driven and creative role, she said. Tell your story effectively in the right context for the customer.

To own that strategic role within the organization, Kehler said the CMO must have a “strategy toolkit.” Consider where you, as a CMO, have strength is these five areas and where you need to build your skills:

Build Context.

Does your organization know their “why?” “We spent a year where I led our leadership team through a definition of understanding our why,” Kehler said. “It was foundational to everything we do.”


This stems from the “why” of your organization, but dives into brand authenticity, she said. Examine whether your brand is reflective of who you really are, and look at how the CMO plays a role in that, she said.

Technology and innovation.

Is technology an enabler in how you get there? Technology should allow us to speed efficiency in data, but should not replace touching the customer and understanding what’s important to the user in the first person, Kehler said.


The CMO should act as a steward of the organization. “For CMOS to demonstrate stewardship of the ROI for the organization, in my experience, goes a long way in demonstrating that seat at the table is appropriate,” Kehler said.


The CMO should work to be at the center of, and seen as an integrator of sales, brand, digital, and talent. “I would argue that all of those levers are something the CMO would have at his or her disposal to pull,” Kehler said.