Rethinking the CMO Role


March 11, 2021

Has any role in business morphed more than that of the CMO? It’s a position rife with constantly changing expectations yet most often lacks the necessary support to ensure its success.

If you’ve worked in marketing long, this isn’t news.

In 2013, the Business Marketing Association and Forrester did research about how CMOs stood at the crossroads of redefined expectations about marketing. Titled, B2B CMOs Must Evolve or Move On, the report looked at how marketing executives were taking on the new world of marketing demands. It found that…

CMOs who improve their team’s agility and simplify peer working relationships will enjoy more executive confidence and move onto greater corporate leadership opportunities. Key to this transition will be the CMO’s ability to span organizational silos and focus corporate strategy, energy, and budget on enhancing knowledge of and engagement with customers.

Fast-forward 8 years and the need for greater agility and deeper customer relationships has increased exponentially.

However, when we look at which C-level position in an organization has the breadth and depth of skills and responsibilities to lead this agile strategy and ensure its customer-focused execution, CMOs are the lone executives in the spotlight. Yet, while the tenure of CMOs is again on the decline, expectations of their responsibilities continues to rise. Being an effective brand builder isn’t enough anymore. Today, marketing executives need to be able to transform the business in a digital world, create purpose-driven marketing, champion technology integration across the company, develop the employer brands, design and deliver the customer and employee experiences, serve as the chief storyteller, infuse innovation throughout the company and the list continues to grow.

A recent AdAge article outlines why, exactly, CMOs who can truly deliver on the core job that needs to be done these days are worth their weight in gold.

The fluid nature of today’s marketing funnel

When there were fewer marketing functions, it was easy to keep everyone swimming in their lane. Now, not only are marketing functions more closely integrated, that’s also the case between marketing and sales. Customer buying habits are fluid, rather than linear, and that means the structure of the traditional marketing and sales funnel no longer works. Customers and prospects can research, discover and buy anything, anywhere and at any time. This means CMOs have to become master orchestrators, bringing out the power of a symphony of a brand, rather than focusing on the performance of solo artists, such as individual channels, one-dimensional brand experiences or siloed approaches.

The endless creative possibilities

While marketers have had technology, data and analytics driven home the last 20 years, there’s still plenty of room for creativity. When it comes to making a purchasing decision, consumer brands set expectations that B2B customers bring to their own buying processes. It’s no longer enough to have a solid strategy and execution in our fully digital world. You now must surprise, delight and perpetually entice people as they move from screen to screen, bringing their user expectations of the experience with them.

The ever-growing opportunity to optimize and improve

In the pre-digital world, it was nearly impossible to give evidence that marketing was actually effective. This couldn’t be further from the truth today. With digital marketing came the team’s ability to launch, measure, improve and optimize in the blink of an eye.

That doesn’t mean everything’s coming up roses.

Being able to look under the hood and see all the details of what works and what doesn’t means a whole new set of risks. Marketers don’t always understand correlation and causation. When they optimize but don’t understand, it can unleash a slew of poor results.

But, as the AdAge article points out, “Great marketers are curious and hold themselves accountable to continuous improvement.”

The massive scale of conversation and communities

Word-of-mouth-marketing has been around longer than that label. But now, it’s not the brand fueling the WOM pipeline, it customers themselves. Social media, online communities and instant personal communication like texts don’t need a brand’s involvement. But if a customer reaches out to a company through a digital channel and don’t receive a near-immediate response, it shows up in public reviews.

While it’s no longer about one-way conversations, having a legitimate two-way talks that matter in the eyes of the customer mean marketers have to get better at responding to things like customer inquiries, feedback, criticism and other insights.

The importance of walking the talk

On top of all of this, CMOs have to make sure that the company as a whole walks the talks. It’s not enough to proclaim your company is purpose driven, you have to dish up the evidence that you actually walk the talk.

Who is establishing the framework and making the hard decisions here? Who is joining industry bodies, chairing sessions, and leading efforts that have the scale to drive change across the ecosystem? It is the work of the CMO.”

From short-term responsiveness to long-term impacts, today’s marketing executives have to make sure all the boats stay afloat in turbulent waters. Add to that empathy for customers and their strategies, and sensitivity to the physical and social environment in which business operates. It’s no wonder that it’s tough for CMOs to live up to all of these exceptions in the eye of the rest of the C-suite.

However, the CMO who can deliver on this spectrum can transform the growth of their company.

In its report, Today’s CMO: Transforming the role to be ready for what’s next, Google seconds the motion that the role of the CMO is ever more complicated:

The 21st century CMO is expected to be a marketing miracle worker, an alchemist who combines the classic art of branding with the latest advances in data and measurement. All this while you serve as the connective tissue of the C-suite and stay a step ahead of the rapidly changing landscape of digital technology, cultural trends, and shifting consumer expectations — things becoming ever more important to the stock price. Customers matter more than ever, and since you’re responsible for them, your role should matter more than ever too.

The question for you, as a marketing leader, is this: Are you able to present the case for why you and your work is more valuable than ever?

Photo credit: Mingo123 via Pixabay

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.