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Does a CMO Tenure Impact EPS? – Doug Bell // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Strong, tenured leadership is often a key component behind many successful digital marketing strategies. Searchmetrics’ EPS study delved into the topic further to examine whether the length of a CMOs tenure can significantly impact EPS. Join host Ben as he continues SEO/EPS Week with Searchmetrics’ CMO Doug Bell, SEO Strategist and Advisor Jordan Koene and Marketing Operations Manager Melanie Schott discussing if a positive or negative correlation between CMO tenure and SEO visibility exists.

Summary

  • In Searchmetrics’ study of 62 Fortune 500 companies comparing organic and paid visibility the team discovered the average CMO tenure to be relatively short, averaging 2-3 years in length.
  • Although the study sought to prove that as SEO visibility increases, the length of CMO tenure increases, it found a weak, positive correlation between the two values.
  • The difficulty behind this type of study is it doesn’t account for a myriad of external, constantly changing values that affect CMO tenure at any given time.
  • Irrespective of whether SEO visibility trends upward or downward, or paid visibility goes up and down, the tenure length of CMOs is actually fairly long.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to SEO and EPS week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day, discussing how and why your SEO efforts are correlated to your company’s earnings per share. Joining us for SEO and EPS week are two mainstays of the Voices of Search podcast. Doug Bell is the chief marketing officer at Searchmetrics, which is an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. And Jordan Koene is an SEO strategist and advisor to Searchmetrics. We also have a third, very special guest today, Melanie Schott, who is a marketing operations manager at Searchmetrics. And she’s gone ahead and done some analysis on the correlation between EPS and SEO performance.

Ben:                All right, so far this week we’ve talked about SEO visibility’s impact on earnings per share. And yesterday we turned the conversation to comparing SEO and paid search impact on earnings per share. And today we’re going to turn the conversation focusing on the marketing leadership and whether that’s actually what’s driving earnings per share. So here’s the third installment of SEO and EPS week with Doug bell, Jordan Koene and Melanie Schott from Searchmetrics. Searchmetrics team, welcome back to the SEO and earnings per share week on the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:          [crosstalk]

Melanie:        Hey, Ben, thanks for having us.

Ben:                 We got two out of three at the same time. Melanie, always great to have you here. Let’s start off with you. You did all this analysis looking at whether SEO impacted earnings per share, whether paid search impacted earnings per share. We’ve talked about that so far this week, and the quick summary is SEO has a mildly positive correlation on earnings per share, but not really statistically significant yet. And paid search has a potentially negative impact on earnings per share. We also talked about how correlation is not causation, and so maybe it’s not the marketing channel that is dictating what impacts earnings per share. Maybe it’s the marketer. Can you tell me a little bit about the analysis that you did looking at the CMOs tenure and its impact on earnings per share?

Melanie:        Sure. Yeah. So you’re saying the same 62 Fortune 500 companies that we used for comparing organic visibility and paid visibility. We took a look into trying to say there’s a correlation between CMO tenure and SEO visibility. The average time of tenure is relatively short. I don’t remember the exact length, but just a matter of two to three years, I believe.

Ben:                It’s about 18 months.

Melanie:       Yeah. So what we would want to be able to say is that as SEO visibility increases, the length of CMOs tenure increases. This is not what we are seeing with these data. So we had an R value of 0.15, so a very weak, positive correlation. I can’t say with any type of certainty that there’s really any correlation at all between these two values.

Ben:                So as it turns out, it doesn’t look like it matters who’s steering the ship on the marketing program. What matters is what channels they’re running and how efficient and how much visibility they have. Doug, you’re running the marketing team at Searchmetrics. What is it you say you do here.

Doug:             Ben, in terms of managing marketing mix or as a CMO, because that’s a fairly existential question,

Ben:                I was really just trying to quote Office Space and be one of the Bobs. But tell us the role of the CMO and why are we seeing data that suggests, it doesn’t really matter who’s steering the ship.

Doug:            Yeah. And if we’re using sets of data that put us on thin ice, we recognize that as a company that is incredibly data-driven and very analytical and very critical of data, we understood this going in. And so the source of our data here was LinkedIn and obviously our own paid and SEO visibility data. And I think one of the potential pitfalls of this, outside of the sample size, is the fact that there are so many externalities that can affect earnings per share, as an example.

Doug:            And then as you look at a CMO in their ability to guide the ship, you’re also looking at externalities and internationally. So in other words, are there things affecting them from a market condition standpoint and then is their own competency and, or the politics and, or the status of their ability to really affect change in a company? How do those things work together? And so I have to say, this is probably the least shocking information that we got out of this research is that there is not a correlation because there’s just too many things that happen from the outside in and from the inside out that would influence CMO tenure. And we’re on video. Nobody knows this, but I’m looking at my former boss, Jordan Koene, shaking his head vigorously, back and forth. So I’m really curious to see what he has to say about this

Ben:               Jordan. You’re a multiple time CEO. You’ve also been a marketer for the vast majority of your career. Talk to me about why it doesn’t matter who your CMO is, or at least that’s what this data indicates.

Jordan:        Yeah. You know, I think this data indicates something that is really unfortunate about the market is that many CMOs really understand SEO and really understand the impact of SEO. Ultimately, I think that … I don’t think that there’s any correlation between this data, but there’s certainly a conversation that needs to be had here about how the tenure-ship of a CMO should be impacted by SEO performance and the performance of search. Quite frankly, I think it’s one of the most important channels, and it is by far and away, the most overlooked channel by most businesses.

Ben:               I’ll use the metaphor again, eating your sugar versus eating your broccoli. I think that the CMOs are under a tremendous amount of pressure because the average tenure is 18 months, and they know that they need immediate performance. And what we’re seeing is that CMOs will often turn to performance marketing channels to drive fast results, as opposed to investing in channels that have longer term benefits because they’re trying to keep their job.

Ben:               And to me, the interesting thing about this is we’re seeing SEO have a positive impact on EPS, slightly. Paid search having a negative impact on EPS, slightly. And then it doesn’t matter who the CMO is. It’s because the CMO is probably gone by the time your SEO channel is really humming and established. It takes sometimes months and years to build credibility with Google. And so you’re seeing multiple CMOs turnover in the time it takes for Google to really recognize who is the strongest brand in the market. Doug, Jordan, am I thinking about this the right way? Is this a factor of the CMOs just gone before anything actually impacts earning per share? Does it take a long time to impact earnings per share and talk to me about the timing.

Doug:            Well, I have to say, one thing we need to understand about the data was actually that what we saw was that CMOs for the larger companies had longer tenures than your average CMO at other competence. Right? So the difference here in terms of correlation was that irrespective of whether SEO visibility was going up or down and paid visibility was going up and down, the tenure of the CMOs in this space actually was quite long. So they are actually breaking the norm. So in many ways, I feel like this is more a reflection of small company where that turnover occurs. Whereas the larger companies, I think there is more wind in their sails, if you will. There’s more of a foundation. I think there’s more of a longterm view.

Doug:             Those companies in other words, are much less likely to turn over their CMOs because it is such a dramatic change, and they are so dependent on marketing to drive new revenues. So to make that change is a big deal. If you’re at, say a smaller company, Jordan’s going to laugh and smile. But if you turn over your CMO to a smaller company like ours, you may not have as big an impact, right? You ultimately, at the end of the day, what you’re talking about there is a company still trying to figure out their growth curve, right? And so that’s the focus. Larger companies, there’s much more at stake.

Ben:                Jordan, you’ll be happy, Doug. I disagree, Jordan, are you happy?

Jordan:         I’m happy. Very.

Ben:               So, things are back to normal. Doug, I disagree with you.

Doug:            Oh, good.

Ben:               With a smaller company, when you replace your CMO, the strategy is impacted. There are less resources. There is less leadership. It is easier to steer the ship in a different direction when you don’t have an established foundation. When you’re working at a big company, you fire the CMO, there’s 15 VPs, and they are not going to change all of their strategy until someone comes in and tells them that there’s something else to do. I do think that there’s more of an active leadership role at smaller companies, as opposed to at larger companies. It just takes a longer time to steer the ship. So my feeling is that replacing a marketer in a smaller company has a more near term impact as opposed to at a larger company. It just kind of keeps going the direction it’s going, Doug, I disagree with you. It’s your turn to disagree with me.

Doug:            Okay. So I think you’re speaking to a certain amount of inertia at large corporations and saying at the end of the day, we’re not going to switch people out because it’s too big a ship to steer and nobody’s noticing. I agree to some degree, but I would also say that part of the reason that turnover is so heavy in smaller companies is, there is such a huge growth focus and growth equals life. In other words, it’s existential. So irrespective of whether the impact is heavy, it does tend to be heavy. When you turn CMOs over at the smaller companies, it’s all about growth, right? And so if that growth isn’t achieved, you’re going to lose that CMO and quite often, that’s why companies fail, honestly. They have too little patience when it comes to the growth curve. I’m not sure what tenures for CEOs … Jordan, can you tell me what your average CEO tenure is at a small company? [crosstalk].

Jordan:         I would say it’s not all that far off of a CMO.

Ben:                Is it measured in minutes, hours or days?

Doug:             I feel like any revenue facing position naturally has high turnover and what drives that is the impetus to growth. Ben, I agree there’s a certain amount of inertia that occurs at larger companies, but I would also say that at smaller companies, it’s not about great practice about whether you can hit those growth numbers.

Ben:               So Jordan settle the score here, when we’re looking at the CMOs impact on EPS, we’re talking about the difference between CMOs impact in big companies and small companies, does CMO matter? And if so, why is SEO important in that decision?

Doug:            Don’t answer that question, Jordan.

Jordan:        So I think there’s a couple of things to settle here, right? I mean, one of them is fundamentally that the CMO, and if we’re looking at this on a long, long period of time here, the CMO has largely not been involved in SEO related decisions. Let’s be honest. I don’t think there’s many CMOs who really are invested in the concepts of SEO. I think they’re invested in really trying to figure out a lot of other issues, right? Personnel, other marketing mix, branding. The reality is that the CMO has not been one that’s been focused on SEO.

Jordan:         And so I believe, and in my opinion here, is that CMOs are becoming more enlightened to the concept of SEO. And as that happens, this correlation may become stronger. And as that happens, the disparity between companies and CMOs who are successful will depend more and more on SEO.

Ben:                Melanie, is there anything else that you want to add in terms of the CMOs tenures impact on EPS.

Melanie:       Searchmetrics, their CMO matters.

Jordan:         Wow, Mel. [crosstalk] Could you work up some more enthusiasm there, Mel?

Melanie:       Sorry. After the fourth time, I lost my gusto. I didn’t get it in.

Jordan:         There was going to be a nice big bonus check in the mail for your Mel, but you flubbed that completely.

Ben:                So, we’re going to move off of that joke. Sorry, Doug. Your job doesn’t matter.

Melanie:       Good try.

Ben:                Okay. I think at the end of the day, as much as we joke around, Doug, about your role specifically, the CMO does matter, right? The person leading your marketing effort matters. I do think that there is a lack of correlation here based on, in part, the timing and partially because there’s inertia for larger companies, as Doug said. But at the end of the day, what matters is the marketing channels and the efficiency, not necessarily who’s running the team in terms of earnings per share.

Ben:               So we’re going to dive into what industries are the most reliant on SEO and how they’re correlated for earnings per share in our next episode. So, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Doug Bell, Jordan Koene and Melanie Schott from Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’d like to hear more of SEO and EPS week, tune in tomorrow morning, when we discuss why SEO matters more for ecommerce and retail companies. If you can’t wait until our next episode, and you’d like to contact Doug, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is market advocate, or you could visit his company’s website, which is searchmetrics.com. If you’d like to contact Melanie, you can also find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes.

Ben:              And if you’d like to contact Jordan, you can find his LinkedIn contact in our show notes as well. You could also contact him on Twitter. His handle is JTKoene, or you can visit his personal website, which is JordanKoene.com. Just one more link in our show notes. I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions. And you could even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course you could always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter. And my personal handle is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week.

Ben:             So hit that subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.