The Demise (And Rise) Of The CMO

Over the past few years, some business pundits have declared the Chief Marketing Officer dead. In May, Coca-Cola even announced that it is eliminating the role of CMO altogether. Does this mean we should prepare for the decline and eventual passing of the CMO role? Not at all. Instead, we need to change the way we view the CMO.

Marketing has long been typecast as a function responsible for generating one-way communications from company to customer, where performance metrics were viewed as a sort of call and response: I sent my customers a message. How many of them clicked on it? How many of them made a purchase? The net result was a campaign-by-campaign view of marketing’s purpose, and value to the organization.

This legacy role is evolving as marketers now often represent the voice of the customer. By deeply understanding all available customer insight, they can evangelize everything they know about their customers to influence decision-making in any capacity. 



While sophisticated marketing leaders are using what they know about customers for targeted marketing efforts, that’s not really enough anymore. Many CMOs are still facing “legacy marketing” bias that impacts how they are assimilated into the company’s C-suite, and they aren’t always brought in to help address business problems from the customer’s perspective. They probably should be. Part of the problem is that the word marketing doesn’t accurately capture the essence of the function of marketers today — to build lasting relationships with customers over time.

With the amount of customer data and technology at their disposal, marketers must move from “informing” to “conversing.” Customers provide data to companies all the time — directly and indirectly — and they expect you to use that data when you interact with them. It’s the marketer’s job to sift through that data and uncover which pieces actually matter. And, it must be done through a complex network of marketing channels — from mass to physical to digital. Nearly 4,000 marketing technology solutions blanket the current landscape, and the CMO needs to put together a solution that works for their business, and their customer base. 

When you consider that the role of a marketer is to develop engaging and lasting relationships with customers by leveraging volumes of customer data, it makes sense that the CMO role must evolve. While we could mourn the loss of the first function that truly acknowledged the importance of the consumer, we should instead celebrate the continued expansion of this role into a position that sits at the center of customer data and technology. 

In our recently published book, my colleagues and I explain how the future of customer centricity requires a partnership between Geeks (technologists), Nerds (analysts), and Suits (strategists). The CMO is a Suit, who must understand and partner with the data and technology that make customer engagement a possibility. Today’s CMOs must have a more diverse skillset than in the past, ranging from high-level strategic vision setting to detailed campaign performance metric monitoring. The best CMOs in the future will:

  • Capture end-to-end knowledge of the current customer experience
  • Synthesize customer data into a compelling voice of the customer
  • Have a healthy knowledge of the technology and data underpinnings of customer engagement
  • Design and manage customer interactions across the board
  • Balance customer needs against business objectives
  • Skillfully set and maintain accountability for customer KPIs
  • Maintain a pulse on the market, leveraging technology and insight to strengthen the company’s positioning

Which titles make sense for this new role? Chief Customer Officer, Chief Engagement Officer, Chief Business Officer, Chief Marketing Technologist, and Chief Experience Officer are all gaining traction. However, it’s more critical to get the set of responsibilities right than to worry about the perfect title. The marketing functions of yesterday and today aren’t going away, but they now are part of a greater organization whose collective purpose is to think holistically about how marketing technology, customer insight, and business strategy can uniquely combine to best serve the needs of the customer.

1 comment about "The Demise (And Rise) Of The CMO".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, November 22, 2017 at 4:47 p.m.

    It is amusing to see how many people today are ascribing "new" responsibilties or functions and the need for "new" skills to the CMO position. Back in the dark ages (1960s) we were taught marketing as being consumer focused and that consumer loyalty (i.e. the repeat customer) was the most profitable way to go. In other words, nurture a two way relationship with the consumer. 

    In the absence of studying and knowing business history, today's execs and consultants don't know what came before them and are at risk of repeating the mistakes of the past. 

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