A few years ago, I wrote an article about the demise and rise of the CMO. At the time, Coca-Cola had announced that it was
eliminating the role of CMO, and there seemed to be some growing support for removing these positions across the industry.
Fast-forward two years, and Coca Cola has announced it's bringing the CMO role back.
But the debate isn’t over quite yet. Just as one Fortune 500 company reprises the role, another takes it away; Gap recently announced it was doing away with its CMO position.
This issue can seem a bit confusing and contradictory. The reason for this debate isn’t because we’re unsure if the position matters or not. It’s because we still really don’t know how to define the role. Marketing continues to face stereotypes and biases that prevent it from being fully embraced by other corporate leaders, although the stereotypes have evolved to include “personalization AI implementer” and “omni-strategist.” There is still a perception that marketing’s sole purpose is to find the right promotional formula or AI solution to get customers to buy more.
While the industry continues to flip-flop on whether this role is in or out, I believe energy is being wasted on answering the wrong question. The discussion around how to structure your organization and what to call the people who work there is by definition very self-centered. It shouldn’t be news if you add or remove a role.
In fact, it doesn’t matter if you have a CMO. Today’s success isn’t about a single role existing or not existing within a company. Ongoing success is actually about having a corporate ecosystem and way of operating that benefits the customer, and all functional leaders should see themselves as equal partners in solving the customer equation.
CMOs can only do so much to convince people to buy an ill-designed product or suffer through a terrible store experience. What they can do is ensure that we’re listening to unmet customer needs -- and sharing that with the other drivers of the business who can make real change. Whatever you call the role, someone in that ecosystem needs to be responsible for thinking about how the business operates using a customer lens.
My colleague Chuck Densinger notes that “100% of your revenue comes from 100% of your customers,” so it’s a bit naïve to believe a customer lens isn’t on equal footing with other views of the business.
Who are you selling things to? Why are they buying? The traditional financial, geographic, or product lenses that exist today are clearly important, but they can’t answer any of these questions for you. Your new “likely, but-not-necessarily, a CMO” needs to bring this perspective to the table.
So, do you need a CMO? Not necessarily. But, do you need someone to represent the customer perspective in managing the business? Absolutely. No matter what you call it, we’re not going to make progress until we stop debating our internal job titles and instead start thinking about how we add a new customer view to the way we operate, manage, and evaluate the performance of our business.