Transformation gives CMOs new lease of life

It’s not new insight that the marketing suite has transformed in the last decade. What started with digital and the need to be on top of every new channel soon merged into a wider question about customer centricity or simply being more relevant to customers. The proliferation of consumer and enterprise technology has since changed nearly every aspect about what a chief marketing officer (CMO) does.

All this has had profound implications on the idea of brand, which has historically been the CMO’s primary responsibility. Today, brand is not only about traditional advertising or storytelling, it’s increasingly about how the company shows up in every single touchpoint between brand and customer in resonant, relevant ways.

In this new landscape, the CMO needs to be part marketer, part customer experience expert, part cross-silo diplomat, part technologist and part organisational change agent.

“No wonder some CMOs feel like deer caught in the headlights,” says Ann Higgins, managing director at Ogilvy Consulting EMEA, which has noted a shift in the nature of accountability among its clients. On top of traditional brand and marketing measures, CMOs are now held to hard business metrics as companies look to them as the primary agent for driving growth.

Speculation on the demise of the CMO role has stepped up in recent years as global brands such as Coca-Cola and Hyatt have opted to eliminate the position, with many restructuring their marketing departments or creating hybrid roles instead.

Never before has the mandate to transform or die been more urgent for the CMO and for the entire marketing function

But news of the death of the CMO may be premature. While marketing has no doubt transformed, it is still about how brands resonate with audiences, which is more important than ever in a world where consumers are overloaded with information. Where new roles like the chief digital officer or customer experience officer are established, it tends to be with the aim of acknowledging capability gaps in the company, not replacing the CMO.

“The marketing function isn’t going anywhere and neither is the CMO, though the specs of the role are certainly changing,” says Ms Higgins. “For CMOs who are attuned to where business, society and marketing are going, and when they are taking the necessary steps to adapt to the changing demands of the job, that role generally is not in jeopardy.”

The word “transformation”, whether used in marketing, technology or broad business terms, may be bandied about among commentators and analysts, but with good reason as it’s now a genuine board-level priority. Although companies that were “born digital” may make it look easy, most organisations don’t share their advantage of never having operated without a cloud-based technology stack or mobile-first mentality.

Indeed, many established businesses have marketing and communications strategies modelled on structures developed when they still used fax machines. The structures rarely enable the kind of agility seen in startups and they don’t provide a lot of latitude to “fail fast”, a mantra championed by companies that tend to disrupt rather than be disrupted.

Standard transformation frameworks talk of people, process and platforms, though real success also incorporates brand, data and culture. While some CMOs are adept and experienced across this whole remit, most aren’t. Agencies have traditionally been the one-stop shop for CMOs, but consultancies have become more prominent in the transformation discussion. So how can CMOs know who to partner with to deliver the best results?

“If your transformation is about things like optimising the supply chain or enterprise resource planning, there are lots of consultancies out there for that,” says Ms Higgins. “But when the objectives are renewed brand relevance now and in the future, or new paths to revenue and profit growth, then CMOs want to make sure they are adding the brand understanding, the customer centricity and the creative problem-solving of a creative network to the business focus, the analytical rigour and the technology platform capability of the traditional consultancies.

“Also, keep in mind that agencies have been in the delivery business for a long time and with many consultancies there’s a hand-off to the CEO, but not a lot help in what to do or how to get started. It’s in response to these needs that Ogilvy Consulting exists. We use a different, but proven, approach to frame the challenge and the opportunity, and then work with clients to roadmap that transformation against a vision and articulated future state.”

All marketing organisations, regardless of category, are facing convergence of changing customer expectations, rapidly advancing technology and the disruption of the status quo. Though there are certainly other leaders who could pick up transformation programmes in a company, including the chief executive, chief information officer and sometimes even human resources director, it’s important for CMOs to remember they have traditionally been the function closest to the customer so therefore have a strong mandate for being the key change agent across the business.

This makes them very relevant to the future success of their organisation. However, this requires not only a shift in traditional priorities, but strategies and roadmaps that reflect the shift.

“Many people say that transformation is a journey not a destination, but remember that a transformation programme potentially has a thousand different destinations,” says Ms Higgins. “Each one is carefully plotted and considered against the guiding vision and strategy, and aligned to a business purpose and articulated future state. So CMOs must step back frequently to evaluate the ‘why’ before tackling the ‘what’ of transformation.

“With this you can start making a difference now, prove the transformation case across your stakeholder constellation and drive momentum incrementally, while also being able to course-correct where needed. Our view is that the ultimate point of marketing transformation, or even more broadly digital transformation, is to help companies be better poised for relevance and growth by becoming more customer centric.”

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