What’s the difference between a chief strategy officer and chief marketing officer?

The CMO. The CSO. Some firms have one. Some firms have both. So what is the difference? And when do firms choose one over the other? In this Q&A with Forbes contributor Kimberly Whitler, Thomas Ordahl discusses the distinction between a chief strategy officer and a chief marketing officer and sheds light on why different companies opt for different leadership titles.

Thomas Ordahl Bio Photo

Kimberly Whitler: As a chief strategy officer, can you describe what your role is at Landor?

Thomas Ordahl: While most CSOs typically manage the strategy function within a firm, my role at Landor is unique because I also manage a division—the strategy practice—that is essentially a product or service of our firm. As a result, I manage both Landor’s strategy function and its strategy practice, which enables me to be involved in a business unit in addition to helping develop the strategic plan for the firm. What I just described is highly unusual.

KW: Determining how to generate demand given a set of competitors and market conditions is oftentimes the CMO’s role. How does the CSO role differ?

TO: In general, the CMO role is designed to create demand—drive demand through awareness and preference building. The CSO role, in contrast, often has more of a finance bent—focusing on the role of divestitures, mergers, and acquisitions as a supplemental demand generator. However, there are many companies where the CMO plays a critical role in total demand generation, regardless of mechanism.

Chief Strategy Officer

KW: Do you have any mental models for situations when CMOs play the larger—versus smaller—role?

TO: I tend to look at where the center of gravity is for the business—where value is really created. This then gives you a sense of how big a role marketing will play in the firm. For example, in technology industries, product and sales tend to drive the business. The intellectual property (IP) and competitive advantage emanate from functions other than marketing, which tends to marginalize the role of marketing within the firm. This is in contrast to consumer packaged goods and retail, where today, competitive advantage emanates from creating superior customer experiences, which means that marketing plays a bigger role.

You ideally want to work in the function that drives the value creation for the firm. It’s interesting, because people often value deep category expertise. I also think it’s important not to lose sight of horizontal pattern recognition and identify analogs in outside categories. In other words, you want to be able to pick up on learnings from companies with similar models, such as those that have a large sales force (like you would find in both financial services and technology) or a focus on protecting IP like telecom equipment or stock photography.


This Q&A was originally published in Forbes (5 March 2017). Republished with permission.