Reports of the death of the CMO may have been greatly exaggerated. It is true that CMOs are under more pressure than ever to produce results, but turnover rates for the position have stabilized even after recent record highs. In fact, perhaps this is a moment to celebrate their critical ascendance in companies.
CMOs have shown themselves to be critical drivers of strategy and operations far beyond what was traditionally termed “marketing,” leading or co-leading transformation of the broader digital, customer and revenue agenda. I was reminded of this as I walked into a meeting with a leading CMO this week and noticed that outside her office is an actual soccer goal with the words “revenue” and “profit” taped to the front with two soccer balls to make the point exceptionally clear. There was no mention of GRPs, NPS scores or viewable impressions.
So, how are CMOs evolving their position within the C-suite? For one thing, they’re asking better questions. Today’s CMOs are not simply concerned with managing key media and agency relationships, driving marketing ROI and building core corporate marketing capabilities. They are challenging their companies to build new operating models that acknowledge that marketing in a digital world requires us to build a platform for growth. At the core of the corporation, CMOs now have the opportunity to create an engine in support of bespoke, decentralized brands and business units, fueled by the right centralized data, technology and talent.
CMOs are also now challenging themselves to answer even broader strategic questions, such as “How do I activate my brand purpose across our entire employee base?” “How can sales and marketing be linked even more integrally?” and “How can I align better with other members of the C-suite to drive better outcomes?” This kind of consistent and deeper self-examination suggests that CMOs understand the need to elevate not only their own roles but also the importance of brands and marketing throughout the organization.
Chief customer growth officer?
Companies increasingly rely on data and technology to drive the full customer life cycle from acquisition through retention and loyalty, so the CMO role can no longer be confined to laying the foundation for demand generation or award-winning ad campaigns. The CMO is still absolutely responsible for telling the story of the brand promise in the marketplace, but in a digital world, that brand promise is delivered through the many touchpoints of the customer experience and potentially connected through the fabric of data and technology. Many other functions that do not report to marketing—including sales, distribution, customer care and employee experience—all ultimately accrue to brand value in the customer’s mind. The customer does not think in terms of the org chart.
For these reasons, the CMO must be given the purview to create and govern better ways of working across all brands and teams. How do companies get there? Here are three steps that every CMO can and should begin to take immediately:
1. Build a stronger bridge to two critical members of the C-suite.
A stronger connection with the CFO and CIO is crucial to unlocking new value and growth, according to a new EY report, which includes strategies for how to break down the cultural barriers that often impede progress. With the CFO, some common language is needed on ROI for both short- and long-term investments. For the CIO, there needs to be a critical discussion around the use cases that need to be enabled relative to the customer agenda, and how data and technology deployment will facilitate those objectives. And, as the landscape around privacy, consumer awareness, regulation and browsers continue to change, there will not be clear answers—just scenarios, requiring strong trust and alignment.
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities for everyone in the organization who touches marketing.
The CMO needs to establish a clear purpose for all employees who touch the infrastructure of marketing. There must be a tight interlock between the corporate teams leading marketing and the brand management teams in the P&Ls, most of which do not report to the CMO but who nonetheless require clarity around roles, responsibilities, workflow, skills, tools and KPIs. There must be a solid understanding of how brand managers can take advantage of the collective marketing platform to hit their revenue and profit goals more effectively and advance their careers. In fact, the operating model for marketing (and customer experience more broadly) will continue to be challenged in more dramatic ways, begging for new levels of leadership and transformation.
3. Link internal marketing campaigns and efforts with external ones.
Even as more marketing activities move in-house, like programmatic and social, there will always be a continuum of activities managed inside the company and those managed by agencies. And, just as the fabric of data and technology connects consumer insights and actions across brands internally, the signals cannot afford to be lost between internal and external campaigns. The issue is often not the agency or holding company that has been selected, but rather the attention that has been taken to look at the interfacing teams on both sides of the equation. How do they communicate, collaborate, determine priorities, manage talent and measure success? The right level of focus must be applied to client-agency “wiring,” which is essentially the operating model for working together effectively.
In a world where we talk so much about audience and data, we must challenge ourselves to build the right hand-offs to be sure that critical data signals are not lost, squandering time, value and the opportunity to connect the dots across the full customer experience. The C-suite must be galvanized to maximize brand value and deliver it through the collective levers of the organization, recognizing that their ability to grow and compete hinges on their leadership.
That process requires companies to embrace a more empowered CMO and shoulder the collective responsibility of the brand across the full leadership team in the C-suite.