Is it time to reinvent the CMO role?

Is it time to reinvent the CMO role?

What’s in a name? Not a lot. Except when it comes to the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role. It has come to mean so much these days that boards have begun to rename it, scrap it or change their minds and reinstate it in many business sectors. Johnson & Johnson and Hershey’s are just two of the high-profile consumer-facing companies that scrapped their CMO roles in favour of Chief Growth Officer or Chief Revenue Officer in recent years while McDonalds and Coca-Cola have done the same but reinstated theirs.

It has created some debate in marketing about whether the CMO role, in its traditional definition, needs reinvention.

So what does this mean for CMOs?

Research by Forrester in 2018 found that 88% of organizations agreed that the remit of the CMO had changed over the past two years and predicted it would change over the next few years. And in its CMO predictions for 2021, the same organisation said: ‘Reinventing themselves, their teams, and the marketing function will be the theme for successful CMOs in 2021.’

The trend has been driven by an ever-expanding set of requirements for the modern CMO: from sales support and brand development to overseeing customer interactions as product managers. While the role varies from sector to sector and between B2B and B2C, one of the other changes has been the evolution in the Chief Technology Officer role. The sudden surge in programmatic has meant those with digital skills have started to understand the customer better than their marketing colleagues.

Reinvention or just a renaming?

For Pamela Brown, CMO, Smart Tech at Vodafone Smart Tech, some organisations have rid themselves of the CMO role because of digitization.

“Organizations like Coca-Cola wanted to shift from being a beverage company to a tech company and replacing the CMO with a Chief Growth Officer role was more about signalling their intention to operate in the tech space. But it’s the same role. The CMO is responsible for growing the bottom line,” says Pamela.

With the essence of the CMO role being “customer obsession” to deliver enduring business growth, she says that if marketers are focused on being competitive, the board will see no need to make a change.

Customer expertise also remains key for James McCarthy, CMO at data discovery start up Exonar.

He says, “If you think of all of the most disruptive brands out there – the ones that have changed the game in their market place, they are all driven by a very strong sense of what the market and audience wants.

“In my view, growth and revenue is an outcome of achieving strong ‘product-market fit’. Disruptive companies ‘growth-hack’ their way to stellar success by obsessively delivering on the needs of a market or audience better than others, re-writing the rules within a sector and removing the friction from the customers’ experience.”

How can CMOs reinstate their value at board level?

If the role is to have a future, CMOs in some industries may have to fight for survival. Different industries require different priorities from their CMO.

In the face of increased demand for almost real-time metrics in performance marketing at the expense of long-term brand building, there are several strategies that may help the CMO to regain gravitas with the board.

Aaron Cole, CMO at The Out, a car rental firm from Jaguar Land Rover, says, “The sensible answer would be measurement. Prove what we do actually works. Not just vanity media metrics either. Solid business results.”

For James, it is about partnering with the CEO – especially those driven primarily by numbers.

“The CMO needs to partner with the CEO to define and bring to life the company’s purpose. The CEO needs to understand the broad strategic value of marketing and define the CMO role accordingly, shaping the company to become bold, disruptive and purposeful in its market and then executing on that through the brand, products and go-to-market,” he says.

Pamela advises that if a CMO faces a reconfiguration of their role: “Look at yourself and ask: are you delivering growth? I’d focus on ways we grow and drive revenue through all facets of marketing.”

There are those that argue the skills of the CMO, understanding the customer above all and how that can shape the company, will be in great demand once the post-covid recovery begins. The challenge will lie in communicating how CMOs can drive that and what it will take to do that.

James says, “It’s not an easy job at all, and it’s not for the faint hearted.”