Silos, A CMO’s Job Guide
October 15, 2008
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Aaker’s new book, Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative,
published this month by the Harvard Business School Press, is
a must-read for every chief marketing officer and any marketer
that aspires to that lofty C-level role.
Aaker is best known for his books on branding, including Brand
Portfolio Strategy, Brand Leadership and Building Strong
Brands, and his role as vice chairman of Prophet, the global
I like Aaker because he’s an academic who provides practical,
pragmatic guidance to marketers. Spanning Silos is just
that, smart advice for CMOs who Spencer Stuart, the global executive
search firm, report last only 23 months in their jobs.
CMOs want to succeed, let alone survive, they’ll pay heed
to Aaker’s new book about spanning silos. My only advice
to Aaker is about the title of the book. It should be called Spanning
Silos: A CMO Survival and Prosperity Guide. CMOs who read
and follow it are more likely to advance.
become clear for companies that have marketing talent, silos present
a barrier,” Aaker says in an interview. “For companies
that don’t have great marketing people at the top, the silos
create paralysis. They can’t get anywhere.”
come to believe the great organizational insight of [early General
Motors chairman] Alfred Sloan: to decentralize is no longer viable.
It doesn’t mean you have to completely disband silos, but
you have to find a way to make them stop being a barrier,”
strategy, for many firms, now involves creating cooperation, synergy
and resource allocation over silo business units. The challenge
is to develop organizational structures that will help overcome
the stultifying parochialism and power of these silo groups and
enable that strategy to succeed,” Aaker says.
What are silos
and why are they a challenge? Aaker reminds us that silos are
“tall, self-contained usually sealed cylinders that frequently
contain commodities.” In business, silos are a metaphor
for an organizational unit that has its own management team and
talent and often lack the desire and motivation to work with other
develop by business function, by geography, by industry, by product
line, by brand or by customer type. While decentralization assures
focus, Aaker argues, in a dynamic global environment, silos lead
to ineffective allocation of resources and missed opportunities.
Aaker believes stronger products and brands, breakthrough marketing
programs, greater ROI and profitability will result if the CMO
can span the silos.
that CMOs face significant barriers. Central marketing, the CMO’s
bastion, is often viewed as an enemy and a threat. The energy
and motivation to span silos can be lacking. CMOs may not have
CEO-level support and the resources for the task. Even with support
and resources, it’s hard to create cross-silo programs.
But Aaker points to numerous examples, including IBM, McDonald’s
and Sony, where silo-spanning efforts prospered and led to a rejuvenation
of the organization.
the CMO as the lynch pin for success. He recognizes that CMO roles
will vary and he articulates different modes of operation for
CMO success depending on the business and organizational context.
CMOs may serve the business as facilitators, consultants, service
providers, strategic partners or strategic captains. Aaker lays
out the how’s and the why’s for alternative CMO leadership
Silos is organized into a series of chapters that address
key challenges CMOs and organizations face, including:
the right role and scope
credibility and buy-in
teams to link silos
common planning processes and information systems
master brands to silo markets
brands in the portfolio
winning silo-spanning marketing programs
addresses best practices and provides a guide for new CMOs, laying
out a road map for what they should do in their first 90 days
on the job.
out the signs and symptoms of dysfunctional central marketing
organizations and what to avoid as a CMO. He advocates limiting
bureaucracy and warns about central marketing structures that
have a “Big Hat, No Cattle” (i.e. lofty talk, but
no authority) structure that appear to be run by uninformed dictators
and situations of total anarchy.
a variety of practical, value-added activities and initiatives
that CMOs can initiate to help build, guide and drive their organizations
forward. He describes process activities (e.g. instituting a common
marketing planning framework), training and marketing talent improvement,
improved research and customer insight efforts, better measurement
initiatives, improving marketing expertise in targeted areas,
guiding alliance and M&A efforts, improvements in the resource
allocation area and taking a seat at the strategy table.
As a CMO,
you may not be able to do it all, but Aaker lays it all out for
you in a thorough and compelling manner. Aaker’s book is
an ideal reference for a CMO facing a new organization. It is
a complete inventory of possibilities that will catalyze your
Aaker’s advice to first-time CMOs?
danger is to get wrapped up in the day-to-day operations and fire-fighting
meetings,” Aaker says. He believes your initial C-level
efforts should have two prongs. Assess the organization’s
capabilities and build a prioritized action plan.
may run into opposition from silo-based executives who don’t
or won’t see the bigger picture. Aaker shares stories of
CMOs who attempted to span silos and failed. He offers one nugget
that stands above all the rest.
ultimate source of influence is customer knowledge,” Aaker
says. “When the CMO team has a better grasp of the customer
than the silos do, or at least has the same level of understanding
as the silos, the discussions can proceed,” Aaker adds.
is the start of collaboration. Marketing breakthroughs emerge
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com