5 CMO Communication Strategies to Secure CEO Buy-in

As I‘ve moved up in my marketing career, I’ve realized how important it is to be on the same page as the CEO.

In this recent episode of Marketing Against the Grain, we explore this topic and offer tips for enhancing your communications with executive leadership. Here are five actionable insights that CMOs and marketing leaders can use to improve their communication with executive leadership and secure buy-in to transform their marketing results.

Why CEO-CMO Communication Is Critical for Success

The relationship between a company’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is pivotal for steering marketing strategy, staying in tune with customer needs, and ensuring business longevity. A report by McKinsey & Company underscores the significance of this alignment, revealing that CEOs who prioritize marketing integration as part of their growth strategy see their companies twice as likely to achieve more than 5% annual growth.

As Kieran and I discuss, however, the CEO-CMO dynamic in many companies is often riddled with communication challenges. For example, one frustration I often hear from founders is that they feel like their marketing lacks differentiation from competitors and that their marketing teams aren’t being creative enough.

At the same time, I also receive feedback from marketing leaders about how their CEOs don’t understand marketing, and how they struggle to defend their creative vision because the executive team doesn’t know what ‘good’ marketing looks like.

This disconnect leads to fragmented communication, diminished business impact, and ultimately, a barrier to achieving marketing goals. So what are some high-impact approaches to better align your marketing strategy with your CEO to avoid these pitfalls?

How to Improve Communication With Your CEO

As someone who’s served as a CMO for almost a decade, I’ve seen firsthand that the CEO-CMO relationship doesn’t have to be adversarial. But like any successful partnership, it requires effort and understanding from both sides. So let’s explore five ways you can bridge the communication gap and secure CEO buy-in to drive your marketing vision forward.

1. Articulate the value of both demand creation and capture.

CMOs must know how to articulate the value of creating and capturing demand. While capturing demand through measurable channels like paid marketing and search is generally understood by many CEOs, leadership often overlooks how creating demand through less measurable efforts — like content creation and brand storytelling — amplifies these results over the longer term.

This misunderstanding can lead to an imbalanced focus on immediate ROI, undervaluing the importance of creative, top-of-funnel marketing. But as Kieran points out, “The more demand you create, the more valuable all those capture channels are,” highlighting the importance of how innovative tactics in demand creation are essential for elevating the effectiveness of demand capture strategies.

2. Align marketing objectives with business strategy.

Successful CMOs know how to demonstrate how their marketing initiatives align with the broader business objectives, positioning marketing not just as a cost center — but as a critical driver of the company’s success.

In my experience, CMOs are at their best when they’re aspiring to be CEOs. For example, instead of focusing purely on the tactical marketing details (which is easy to get distracted by), they also know how to evaluate the big-picture business context and industry landscape. As a result, they’re able to more effectively align with executive leadership, ensuring their team’s approach addresses pain points and drives impactful outcomes.

3. Adapt and innovate budget allocation.

Especially in competitive markets, CMOs need to repeatedly take a hard look at their budgets to make sure they are not just repeating past strategies — but are actively adapting and innovating their spending to meet new challenges. In other words: if you need different results than last year, then you need to spend your money differently.

If you’re feeling unsure about how to get started, I recommend beginning by scrutinizing all of last year’s expenditures. What needs to change? What should stay the same?

By strategically shifting funds to new and potentially higher-impact activities, CMOs promote a culture of agility and responsiveness, ensuring they’re ahead of the curve and maximizing the impact of every marketing dollar.

4. Rigorously manage risk in marketing initiatives.

Effective risk management requires CMOs to track their higher-risk creative projects to ensure they align with the business’s risk tolerance. For example, establishing monthly campaign priorities, organizing weekly project reviews, or leading daily standups enables CMOS to keep a close eye on each project’s development.

Additionally, defining key campaign metrics upfront improves project risk management by providing a transparent framework to measure progress. Teams can then identify potential challenges before they become problematic and make real-time adjustments, while still pursuing big bets that could lead to big business wins.

5. Prioritize cross-department alignment.

Marketing leaders who complain that their CEO isn’t on board are usually not in tight alignment with their peers in pushing the business forward. Strong peer relationships with other departments like sales, finance, product, and customer success are crucial for CMOs to establish a united front that’s aligned with the CEO’s business goals.

For example, when sales teams express excitement about a brand campaign — and product leaders affirm the alignment with product value propositions — a CEO may be more likely to support these efforts. This cohesive approach not only shows how marketing initiatives enhance other teams but also improves the visibility of your team’s contributions to company objectives.

For a quick explainer on what it takes to get a CEO’s buy-in for high-risk marketing campaigns, check out the full episode of Marketing Against the Grain below:

This blog series is in partnership with Marketing Against the Grain, the video podcast. It digs deeper into ideas shared by marketing leaders Kipp Bodnar (HubSpot’s CMO) and Kieran Flanagan (SVP, Marketing at HubSpot) as they unpack growth strategies and learn from standout founders and peers.

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