CMOs are becoming the solution to their organisation's strategic weaknesses

Razorfish CEO Peter Stein tells Adobe Summit attendees that chief marketing officers not only need to lead the marketing function and customer engagement, they are also responsible to identifying the company's future path

From left: Adobe's Ann Lewnes, Brigham Young University's Jeff Dotson, Russell Reynolds' Jana Rich; Razorfish's Peter Stein; and Audi of America's Jeff Titus
From left: Adobe's Ann Lewnes, Brigham Young University's Jeff Dotson, Russell Reynolds' Jana Rich; Razorfish's Peter Stein; and Audi of America's Jeff Titus

CMOs are increasingly becoming the solution to the weaknesses in an organisation’s priorities, vision and future strategy, several industry executives at Adobe’s Digital Marketing Summit claimed.

Commenting on the role of the chief marketing officer during a panel session on marketing’s reinvention, CEO of digital agency Razorfish, Peter Stein, said CMOs have gone beyond leading marketing and customer interaction within their organisations, and are becoming masters of innovation.

“Not only do CMOs have to focus on all these different aspects of the marketing business, in the ideal world they’re also thinking about new products and services, and what’s next,” he said. “In a lot of ways, the CMO is picking up for where the organisation has some weaknesses when it comes to bigger prioritisation and innovation.”

According to Stein, the best CMOs are the ones with a true business perspective. This could be because they were a CTO, or a marketer that gained broader business exposure over the course of their career.

“Anyone who is in love with the past is going to struggle: So much of the role is about embracing change and the future, and being willing to take risks,” he continued. “The best successes are where the marketers are pulling the organisation forward to try new things – even if the KPIs are not there.”

CEO of executive recruitment firm Russell Reynolds, Jana Rich, shared a story of a recent Fortune 50 company CEO that told her it’s the triumvirate of CEO, CIO/CTO and CMO that runs the business today.

“The role of CMO is all about leadership,” she said. “One of the fundamental reasons why CMO tenures are not longer is because of that leadership piece. More and more is being asked of the CMO to build great teams and also lead right across the function.

“To get to this stage of your career, you have to have a lot of pieces in your toolkit that you’ve learnt over the years. But the only way to be the most effective and influential person in business is to hire to your complement, and shine the light on people so they’ll stay with you.”

Adobe CMO, Ann Lewnes, pointed to the data-driven nature of marketing as the catalyst for the change and rise of the role.

“One of my favourite quotes from our CEO, Shantanu Narayen, is that he expects the CMO to soon have a better pulse on the business than the CFO because we’re so immersed in the numbers,” she commented.

The panel turned their attention to the need for marketers to reinvent themselves if they’re to meet the needs of a digitally led business. For Audi of America general manager of digital technology and strategy, Jeff Titus, embracing agile ways of working and quicker product cycles are vital.

“Get people to learn in short cycles, try things that are new. This helps with lowering the cost of risk. It also allows you to stop and reflect on how things are going,” he said. “You want to build, measure and learn much like a lean start-up does. Measuring with empirical data, not opinions, will help other people understand it.”

Titus also stressed data know-how as one of the most important tools in the marketer’s arsenal.

“Every marketer needs to understand that when you put something out there, you should have to measure it,” he said. “That’s not referring back to a chart, but in as real-time a way as possible. Get the team oriented to that, and look at outcomes, not just the journey and what might happen and don’t try to segment down to the last level.”

Stein said the best thing marketing leaders can do is get the organisation focused on the right KPIs.

“Marketing is going to change dramatically in the next five years, more so than we have seen thus far, and we’re moving to more real-time ways of working,” he added. “Look at how can you get shorter planning cycles in place now, and use customer journey as a guide to bring the organisation together.”

Stein also called on marketers to embrace technology and make it a secret weapon. Adobe’s recent Digital Roadblock: Marketers Struggle to Reinvent Themselves survey also showed that while marketers are willing to embrace change, 60 per cent don’t want to use technology unless it is mainstream.

“There are operational reasons why this is the case, but it’s such a wide opportunity and so many marketers aren’t embracing it,” Stein said.

Given learning new skills is often the reason people want to work and stay with an organisation, Rich said this should be a key focus for marketing leaders looking to reinvent themselves and their department.

Ways to do this could be embellishing a staff member’s experiences with agencies, partnerships with business schools, introducing cutting-edge marketing programs, making contact with marketing students to gain access to new ideas, and more cross-functional work.

More from the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit

Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Summit as a guest of Adobe.

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