No Longer In Control, CMOs Must Think Differently

If you run a brand these days, how out of control do you feel? We all know the litany: CMO jobs are as short-lived as a fruit fly, traditional marketing tools are increasingly ineffective and, according to Accenture Strategy, even the idea of brand ownership is shifting to the public domain.

For those still left standing, Amazon and voice are coming to finish them off. Meanwhile, CMOs are still expected to build brand equity and make it rain every quarter.

So what do CMOs do when they no longer control the means to do their jobs, but the expectations haven’t changed? Here are a few marketers forging new paths to help answer that question.

Falling in love with problems



P&G is inventing a new approach to innovation by freeing marketers to follow their passions. The company has created 130 internal startup teams organized around three or four people who “[fall] in love with [a consumer] problem and make things happen,” says Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, noting the brief’s direction to form a “constant connection with consumers.” This people-first approach to marketing is a significant change for a company steeped in classical brand management, and it appears to be working—P&G recently posted its biggest organic sales growth in 5 years.

Making research happen in real time

Consumer research has traditionally been viewed as something you do episodically and toward a specific project or task—and always somewhere else, i.e., “in the field.” But that process removes the consumer from a marketer’s daily reality. Unilever is changing this paradigm by giving its marketers direct access to consumers all the time. Through its partnership with the platform, Unilever execs can use webcams to get instant feedback on questions through on-demand qualitative consumer interviews and focus groups. A searchable video database also lets Unilever execs share clips with each other to facilitate the spread of insights.

Putting designers in charge

A lot of companies have experimented with design thinking as an off-site topic, but Ford Motor Company went all-in when it hired long-time Steelcase executive Jim Hackett as its new president and CEO. Hackett is making human experience central to Ford’s strategy in an era where our phones matter more than our cars. Ideo’s global managing director, Iain Roberts, says, “The phone was considered an accessory you brought into your vehicle. Now I think the relationship may have flipped—the vehicle is an accessory to the device.” Hackett is leading a turn at Ford toward heavier engagement with users earlier in the design process to understand how cars need to fit into the ecosystem of their lives. “If you look at business history, the winners are almost always those that get their user experience right.”

Getting past brand narcissism

Despite the occasional nod to consumer centricity, most marketers remain focused on themselves and have a nasty habit of turning every social movement into an opportunity for inserting their brands. But, in a world of transparency, conversation and reciprocity, that kind of self-absorption is making brands irrelevant. The 2019 Meaningful Brands Study by Havas reports that consumers would not shed a tear over losing 77% of the world’s brands. Psychologists say the most important step for overcoming narcissistic traits is understanding how your actions affect others and developing a deeper sense of empathy. If that’s the case, then some marketers are getting it.

According to P&G’s Pritchard, “Brands for many years have been all about ‘me.’ ‘I’m a brand—let me tell you all about me.’ What we want to do is shift that to brands who are all about ‘you,’ and all about the world, that are about being a force for good and a force for growth. That is exciting and that is, I think, the future of what we’ll see in 2019.”

The kind of innovative thinking and risk taking displayed by P&G, Unilever and Ford might not work for every marketer and every brand. But the message is clear: In order to meet the challenges of today’s marketplace and do what’s best for their brands, CMOs had better start thinking differently.

3 comments about "No Longer In Control, CMOs Must Think Differently".
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  1. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group, April 20, 2019 at 8:36 a.m.

    Brian: Solid points! Consumers define brands, although denizens of the C-suite might not have pivoted to that view. It's about being consumer centric and having great CX/UX.  CMOs  understand the importance of "how can we help you, rather than how can I sell you." Meet consumer needs and provide value and they will return in kind.  It's all about relationships and the best relationships are a win/win.

  2. craig kleber from TLC, April 23, 2019 at 3:48 a.m.

    Big wake-up call, albeit it is now midday for many companies that should have been woken up in the morning. It is nice to see effete research conventions exploded, research is not a sacred thing, it is YOUR tool, the research/er wors for you.
    What I find unnecessary here is the usual (hackneyed) dialectic of X vs. Y - that's not the issue. Word of advice for Ford or anyone else... be the best at what you need to be for your consumer in utility (a la Adam Smith's ideas) and emotional need. Sure a phone may be more important in one's life but that does not mean the car apes the phone, more like be in harmony with the phone (the point of this piece is the CONSUMER IS THE STAR (their rational and emotional needs and wants)... the consumer not any product. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 23, 2019 at 9:52 a.m.

    While much of the advice given in this article is well founded, I doubt that CMOs as a class have lost control to the extent that is suggested nor do I believe that this is the fault of always----or almost always--- placing the brand first and the consumer second. Sure, this may happen from time to time---especially in the tech area----but, in my experience, sensible marketing directors have always used research to tell them what the comsumer needs and help them to position their brand advertising accordingly. Perhaps the brands that I worked on or are familiar with are atypical---but I doubt it.

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