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  • Sandhya Gulsin

The marketing superhero | How the role of the CMO is evolving

With the economic crisis of 2020 ensuring rapid changes take place in the marketing field, there has been confusion as to what the role of the Chief Marketing officer is and what it should be. Marketing is ever-changing and so are the responsibilities of CMOs; business goals are usually consistent in guiding marketing, but even they are evolving. Nonetheless, it is still about customers and marketing most effectively to customers. As a result of this, it is now a challenge for CMOs to keep up with changes in consumer behaviour, organisational behaviour and management expectations. So does a CMO need to be a superhero today and what exactly should the role of the CMO be?

The Cause

The cause for the shift in defining the CMO is the customers' change in behaviours. A CMO’s job is to ensure that they market the business and its products most effectively to acquire and retain customers. However, this is becoming harder to achieve as consumers are fragmenting online and increasingly completing digital purchase journeys in favour of in-person transactions. Consumer responsibility remains as prominent as ever on the list of requirements though and CMOs are still seen as the guardians of the brand. With the increase in expectation around the digital experience and consumers' ability to access a brand through ever more devices and platforms, marketing strategies must align with this shift. In charge of responding to this change is the CMO. In order to deliver this transformation within the business, CMOs need to change the way they work and take responsibility for delivering digital transformation within many businesses today.

The Expectations

The role of marketing in businesses is changing, it’s not about price, product, place and promotion anymore. CEOs expect different things today from CMOs, which is a subject that is addressed in “What Board members say about the CMO off the record”, which highlights that the essential skills expected today are around new inventions and “changing the characteristics of a company”. A unified understanding of the changing digital landscape, such as new data and cultural shifts are also flagged by CEOs as an adaptation to the role they expect their CMOs to make. From the sole management of marketing communications to the implementation of all a multitude of strategies, the role of CMO is not clear in many organisations and there is often a lack of alignment and clear clarification of the responsibilities the CMO has. Therefore understanding the contrast of expectations versus reality requires the CMO to manage the expectations of those above and the wider organisation as a whole to ensure everyone sees it in the same way.

At the recent Web Summit Technology Conference debates, it was argued that the role of the CMO should be reinvented and as part of this, CMOs need to be willing to sharpen up their skill sets. Debating the new role of the CMO emphasises the importance of its existence. Skills such as advanced marketing innovation and personalised customer experiences can be optimised and developed further within a multi-skilled team, which must be considered when defining the role. Creativity is being stretched in ways we could not have seen in previous years; evolving media platforms and technological developments mean CMOs may have to reskill. CMOs need to take stock, assess the landscape and ensure their role is clearly defined and expectations are managed in order for their tenures to be a success.

Which Type Of Marketer Will You Be?

The responsibilities of CMOs vary so broadly from organisation to organisation, which is often dependent on the company size, sector and stage of evolution. According to Deloitte “The 5 roles of the CMO”, there is more than one definitive type of CMO, as highlighted by their model below, which defines the different ways the CMO role is seen within different types of organisations. Nobody can be all of these, so it’s important to identify the type of CMO needed against the business expectations in order to flourish in the role.

What seems key now as a CMO is the ability to adapt and evolve over time as requirements change. The variation of character types shown in the Deloitte model enforces the fact that attempting to define the role of the CMO with one description is difficult; not all marketers are the same and the requirements of different businesses of them also vary. However, the one consistent essential theme for all CMOs is the ability to be able to continually adapt in order to thrive from change.

Although the CMO cannot be all of these types of marketer, they should endeavour to fill their team with all of these characteristics in order to achieve a well-rounded company that delivers sustainable growth. As well as filling their team with different types of marketer, a successful CMO will also need to take responsibility for implementing the operational changes needed to reach their audiences, as highlighted in the Gartner Marketing Organization Survey 2020;

“CMOs are evolving their teams through increased centralization, more functional alignment and continued exploration of agile marketing practices. These changes are helping build more scalable, flexible and resilient marketing organizations.”

All of the above requirements highlight the difficulty in being a CMO today in navigating a path for change successfully through these uncertain times. The expectation of the CMO seems to be taking on superhuman proportions. Aligning “non-marketer” understanding with a marketer perspective is key to avoiding unrealistic expectations.

In conclusion, customer needs and expectations are going to continue to change and the reasoning behind the broad range of descriptions for the role of the CMO is influenced by their characteristics, business requirements and how they deal with customer’s evolving needs. Other key factors to consider are the team supporting the CMO, the need for the digital transition and the CEO’s evolving business goals. The role cannot be defined as a “one fits all” as it is and will be inevitably changing, but the shifts taking place currently present marketers with an opportunity to rise up the food chain and become more valuable to the business. Strap on your cape and embrace your inner superhero!

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