10 Reasons to Hire a CMO as the New CEO

Credit union boards seem to default to a CFO or COO as the new CEO. The thinking is sound; credit unions are a business of money (finance) and serving members (operations), which are the two key skill sets of the CFO and COO, respectively. But, in the dynamic business landscape of credit unions, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role has evolved beyond overseeing marketing strategies to a place where they should be seen as viable CEO candidates. CMOs are instrumental in shaping the overall direction and success of a company. Today’s CMO comprehensively understands market trends, member and consumer behavior, strategic positioning, and a generalist’s knowledge of the entire business, from branches to lending to finance to operations to compliance. CMOs possess a unique skill set that can be invaluable at the helm of an organization. I can name several marketing executives who have enjoyed success as credit union CEOs. This article explores why it makes sense to consider hiring a CMO as the new CEO.

  1. Strategic Vision – Successful marketing strategies require an overall understanding of the broader business landscape and objectives. CMOs must develop strategic plans aligning with the credit union’s goals and objectives. They possess the unique ability to translate market insights into actionable strategies designed to drive revenue growth and market expansion. By leveraging the credit union’s strategic vision, CMOs can steer the organization toward sustainable success in a competitive market environment.
  2. Deep Understanding of Consumer Behavior – CMOs are at the forefront of understanding consumer needs, preferences, and behaviors. This member and customer-centric approach is crucial for driving business growth and innovation. As CEO, a former CMO ensures that the company remains agile and responsive to evolving customer demands, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Their insights will guide strategic decisions across the organization, from operations to lending to branches to product development to member service, ensuring a member-centric approach at every level.
  3. Focus on Growth and Innovation – Modern business environments are characterized by rapid changes and fierce competition. CMOs are inherently wired to drive growth and innovation, constantly seeking new ways to capture market share and engage audiences. Their knack for identifying untapped markets and niches, launching successful campaigns, and leveraging emerging technologies positions them well to lead companies through periods of expansion and transformation.
  4. Brand Building and Reputation Management – Building a solid, trusted brand and maintaining a positive reputation are critical for long-term success. CMOs excel in crafting compelling brand narratives and managing brand perception across all channels. Their expertise in brand building and reputation management will help differentiate the company in the market while fostering member and stakeholder trust. As CEO, a former CMO will safeguard the brand’s integrity while exploring new opportunities for brand expansion and recognition.
  5. Alignment of the Strategic Vision – Effective marketing is more than just branding and advertising; it’s about defining and aligning a credit union’s identity, values, and purpose. CMOs are experts at crafting and communicating compelling narratives that resonate with members and stakeholders. A CMO transitioning into the CEO role ensures alignment between brand, purpose, vision, behaviors, and business strategy, fostering consistency and authenticity in all aspects of operations.
  6. Cross-Functional Collaboration – Successful leadership hinges on the ability to foster collaboration and synergy across multiple silos and functions within an organization. CMOs have learned that to be successful, marketing must serve the needs of the entire credit union. They cannot stand isolated but must work closely with branches, sales, operations, technology, finance, wealth management, and compliance. Their experience in bridging silos and fostering cross-functional teamwork will break down organizational barriers, driving efficiency and innovation across departments. Every major project or initiative a credit union takes on requires cross-functional efforts. Today, no silo can be successful without collaboration, and the CMO can bridge silos and foster collaboration while breaking down barriers and driving innovation. A former CMO will promote a culture of collaboration and teamwork, leading to greater efficiency and synergy across the entire organization.
  7. Agility and Adaptability – The pace of change in today’s business environment demands agile and adaptable leaders. CMOs navigate ambiguity, responding to shifting market dynamics and seizing opportunities swiftly. This inherent agility equips them to lead organizations through turbulent times, making quick decisions informed by data and market insights.
  8. Member Experience Focus – In an era where member experience reigns supreme, credit unions must prioritize delivering exceptional interactions at every touchpoint. CMOs relentlessly focus on designing and enhancing member experience, ensuring that products, services, and processes meet the end user’s demands. Elevating a CMO to the CEO role signals a commitment to placing member satisfaction at the heart of the business strategy.
  9. Digital Transformation Expertise – Digital transformation is no longer a buzzword but a strategic imperative for credit unions looking to thrive in the digital age. Marketing has gone through seismic changes in the past 15 years, moving from push to pull marketing, from print, paper, postage to email, from Yellow Pages to Google searches, from brochures to content-based, inbound marketing, from “blast” to data-driven marketing that required marketing automation technologies. CMOs have had to react to these changes quickly and in real time. Their proficiency in leveraging digital channels and technologies and change management will accelerate digital transformation efforts, enabling the credit union to stay ahead of the curve.
  10. Data-Driven Decision Making – Data is everywhere and is available in mass quantities. Today’s credit union is data-driven, and data analytics are pivotal in decision-making. Credit unions must transition from the “I think” to “the data says” decisions. CMOs leverage data and analytics daily to gain insights into consumer and member behaviors, campaign performance, market segments and opportunities, and market trends. This analytical mindset will enable the credit union to make informed decisions that drive business outcomes and optimize resource allocation. As CEO, a former CMO will instill a culture of data-driven decision-making throughout the organization, yielding better efficiency and improved performance.

Hiring a CMO as the CEO will bring many benefits to an organization. From their member-centric focus and strategic vision to their expertise in brand building and data-driven decision-making, CMOs possess the skills and qualities needed to lead a credit union to success while gaining a competitive edge and position for long-term growth and profitability.

About rich@leading2leadership.com

Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on Amazon.com and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at www.leading2leadership.com.

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