Theory of Socially Influenced Corporate Evolution
We’re not quite there yet, but eventually all businesses will consider “does this pass the smell test” before acting, not just rely on the marketing department to spin it after the fact. We can thank the internet.
Watching a recent episode of Mad Men got me thinking about how much the marketing landscape has changed since the advent of immediate public response to any business decision. No longer can companies hide behind their press releases and rose colored glasses, especially those that have rabidly passionate publics or a history of poor performance. The ramifications of their actions should be considered during the decision making process, not just dealt with after the fact.
This has put the CMO in a new and sometimes unenviable position with the advent of social media and immediate feedback. In the public eye and in writing, they now have to take responsibility and be held accountable for decisions that (in some structures) were made without consideration for this new reality and its impact on sustainable business. They are left with a few options. Explain and defend those actions so that the blowback doesn’t get out of control (often the direct order), agree with the public (which would get them canned quick), or stay on the sidelines and hope (proven to be unsuccessful). The challenge is that being in the spotlight taking ownership of unpopular moves might be what is expected, but with the googleability of everyone and every topic nowadays, the CMO ends up shouldering the load for all of the controversy a controversial brand creates, while ramifications can remain an afterthought at the top. Some corporations may actually use this as a strategy to go about their business, or as a way to accomplish a lot of change quickly, but most do it unknowingly.
This is going to solve itself over time as everyone is forced to accept the new norm. At this point it’s still an evolving scenario with casualties limited to politcal level debate type business. Those casualties will be the one or few people in a controversial company who are tasked with managing that online reputation, while the wheels turn without concern for the ongoing public smell test. We’ve all had the feeling of “wow, I really feel sorry for the guy tasked with explaining that one” when viewing the train wreck du jour. In some cases there may even be two layers of management between the CMO and the top, which will only decrease the flow of feedback between these critical parts, and relegate the CMO to being an unsustainable public target that can be refreshed down the road with a new target or a more realistic strategy. This person’s professional responsibility brings the wrath of the public blowback squarely on them as the only visible target. Corporations will either see this and evolve to be a more adept corporate citizen, or the CMO and the organization will grow apart.
CMO’s need to think twice about who they are willing to represent in an immediate response world. An otherwise impeccable career path can be hit hard. If a company inspires political level public passion around nearly every move, then doing the marketing is not just about buying the ads and driving web traffic. You will also have to legitimize every move. So if jumping into that fray, think twice, and try to get in a position to influence direction, not just be subject to explaining what’s dropped on your desk. Just a word to the wise. Not a fun lesson to learn the hard way.