What the future CMO role will be

‘They’re the storyteller who weaves the future from today’s insight with tomorrow’s imagination’


Sophie Devonshire, Chief executive, The Marketing Society
By Sophie Devonshire, Chief executive, The Marketing Society

Perhaps we should feel sorry for the future chief marketing officer (CMO). The exponential knowledge growth in the marketing world, the explosion of potential tools will continue to increase in complexity and choice. And any senior marketer needs to take calculated risks to succeed, to be different, distinctive and dynamic, which can be personally challenging.

However, perhaps the future CMO could take inspiration from one of the most interesting entrepreneurs in history. The widow Veuve Clicquot was a tiny, 4½ft woman who transformed the world of champagne with game-changing technological and marketing innovations, while wrangling widowhood, war and immense social disapprobation.

Towards the end of her life, she wrote to her granddaughter with some advice: “The world is in perpetual motion and we must invent the things of tomorrow… act with audacity.” 

As we look to the future CMO nearly 200 years later, we operate in a business world which has been moving at a super-fast rate for over a decade. Technology layering on technology leads to exponential growth and opportunities which can be overwhelming. Curve balls hit, personal, political, pandemic-related. 

Now more than ever “the world is in perpetual motion”, so great marketing leaders need to get the pace right. One way to do this is to recognise they’re not alone. At the heart of the marketing industry is a community who come together to help each other, to share ideas and inspiration, to support and speed up success.  The future CMO knows a network of “brains to borrow” can be an accelerator.

Frequently those who succeed in marketing are those who not only value connections outside the business, but act as the ultimate connector inside, the conduit between the wants, needs and desires of the customer and the business, the bridge across different parts of the organisation.

Understanding the organisational psychology involved in building relationships is a critical skill which can be learnt and practised. They’re the storyteller who weaves the future from today’s insight with tomorrow’s imagination. With the right influence inside the organisation they can make incredible innovations that make an impact and make a difference.

The great CMOs of tomorrow are influencers, but they’re also the innovators; it is the marketing function that can truly help “invent the things of tomorrow”. The CMO is the one who drives how brands pivot and evolve, share clarity around opportunities, and who has to ensure calculated commercial risks are taken. Courage is needed to be a leader; it’s the personal bravery that allows you to change the way things are done.

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot created new product innovations, expanded her brand globally and completely reinvented the typical business model. Her mantra resonates for the future CMO. We must be willing to take bold risks, to “act with audacity”.

And it’s this courage that’s inherent in great leadership that means the future CMO should take pride in being a marketer. Sara Bennison, CMO of Nationwide, winner of The Marketing Society’s Brave Marketing Leader 2020, speaks passionately about the pride in the marketing title she holds. “Businesses need people who can transfer insight into propositions and put great communication at the heart of the business, and that’s marketing,” she says. 

Being a CMO is a complex role, with the need to connect up audiences and opportunities, to inspire and influence people to action, internally first and then with their audiences, to connect up the creative with the commercial. But it’s the ability to shape a business in a successful and exciting way that is something to take pride in, to celebrate and toast. With the finest champagne, of course.


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