CMO50 2016: A study in marketing's collective transformation

We look at the common themes behind this year's submissions and why fostering capability dominates in the hearts and minds of CMOs today

If you wanted proof marketing is undergoing systematic transformation, then this year’s CMO50 is it.

Now in its second year, the CMO50 is an annual list celebrating Australia’s most innovative marketers. Specifically, it’s designed to highlight core pillars of modern marketing, such as effecting business change and growth, improving customer engagement, demonstrating data- and technology-led strategic thinking and creativity.This year's list was sponsored by Adobe.

Change was a recurring theme across every submission this year, and it’s clear Australian marketing leaders are taking up this mantle with gusto. Popular transformational programs include harnessing and on-boarding real-time customer insights for campaign optimisation and frontline engagement, marketing technology investment, customer journey and personalisation strategies and strategic division restructuring bringing together traditional above-the-line and below-the-line teams.

This ability to effect change is a sign of marketing’s steady rise up the executive ranks as a core strategic contributor, rather than just a communications tool. But there’s a way to go yet.

The first thing this year’s CMO50 judges commented on was the variance between ambition and effectiveness. While there was plenty of progress, commercial figures on impact weren’t always there to back it up. In addition, while most CMOs clearly realise marketing must change in order to retain relevance, there is still a gap around what form that needs to take and just how different it is to traditional marketing modus operandi.

For ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster, a distinct line emerged between those still focused on campaigns, a more traditional form of marketing, and those fostering a customer-led approach based on insights, engagement and experience optimisation. Former director of marketing at Scentre Group, John Batistich, also highlighted effectiveness and marketing’s worth in the context of customer values.

CMO50 judges noted the digital investment occurring, with all nominees at least some way working towards digital enablement and sophistication. Some showed a real understanding of the data and technology required, while others had only just started. Those who made it to the top 50 all demonstrated an increasingly data- and technology-led approach.

Similarly, Inventium founder, Dr Amantha Imber, saw massive variance in building innovation that has an impact on wider customer or business success.

Former CMO and marketing leadership advisor, David Morgan, flagged process versus outcome as a key differentiator, particularly when it comes to digital transformation. With the sheer volume of change now being effected, he suggested CMOs must be process focused. However, fellow judge and former NAB CMO, Sandra de Castro, pointed out the emphasis will vary depending on company size. She also noted growing interest in more personalised and targeted marketing and how far organisations had come.

Publicis Australia CEO, Andrew Baxter, singled out the growing trend towards building strategic and unified teams as opposed to specialists, especially as digital and data pervade every aspect of marketing.


Being in its second year, we fully expected the names and positioning to differ from 2015. More than half of this year’s top 50 are first-time entries, and come from a wide variety of industry sectors including retail, education, IT&T, financial services, FMCG, manufacturing and media and entertainment.

Adding to this is the significant movement across Australian marketing leadership ranks in the last 12 months. Nearly 30 per cent of the CMOs featured in 2015 left their position, were promoted locally or globally, or saw their roles expand during this time.

As a combined group, average tenure came in at about three years, down from the three-and-a-half years we saw in 2015, and there are significant discrepancies to factor in. Several marketers, for instance, have been promoted in the last 12-24 months, or have been with their organisation for more than five years.

And while similarities can be drawn from this year’s entries, there are distinct differences in how marketing is perceived depending on organisation and industry sector. Digital ownership is one major difference, and CMO50 contenders showed varying levels of ownership. Some, like the Sydney Opera House, Deakin University, Domino’s Pizza and IAG, have distinct digital teams overseeing and managing digital programs, some which report into marketing, some which do not.

Another is in how far marketing’s reach extends around end-to-end customer experience. You only have to look at the most recent financial reports from ASX-listed organisations to see how far ‘customer centricity’ as a principle has come.

It’s evident marketers take their role of chief customer custodian seriously, but again, the level of oversight and accountability varies. As we pointed out last year, a rising number of Australian CMOs are gaining responsibility for end-to-end customer engagement, most notably last year’s number 1, Mark Reinke, who was elevated to chief customer experience officer earlier this year.

Six of the 50 for 2016 officially have customer experience or engagement in their job title, and activities such as customer journey mapping, segmentation, and 360-degree customer insight dashboards were common on priority lists.


Upskilling was another consistent theme, with all marketers investing heavily as a way of coping with new digital channels and technologies while building resilience for the future

Upskilling was another consistent theme, with all marketers investing heavily as a way of coping with new digital channels and technologies while building resilience for the future. There wasn’t a single nominee who wasn’t looking for more agility, and ways of working such as daily scrums, continuous and iterative learning loops, hackathons and customer co-creation were listed as ways of achieving this.

In larger organisations, such as the Commonwealth Bank, in-house marketing academies have been established to build up foundation skills now considered necessary in marketing. Importantly, these don’t just include data analytics but also change management.

Another trend is to use agencies and consulting partners to train staff, particularly around data and technology manipulation. Disrupting team thinking was also prevalent, and everything from partnering with startups to boot camps, participating in external conferences and cross-functional collaboration cropped up.

Data and analytics nevertheless topped the list of skills most in demand. Most CMOs have recruited data analytics and insights specialists. This, in turn, has triggered restructures to marketing insights, customer research and traditional below-the-line teams.

Others hired in skills, and several CMOs agreed diversity in thinking and bringing individuals from non-marketing backgrounds were vital. There is a growing trend towards bringing in in-house execution capabilities previously provided by agencies, such as creative and social media management, primarily for the purpose of improving responsiveness and optimisation.

Whatever form marketing takes from here, or the skillsets that need to be developed, what shone through this year’s CMO50 list is the importance of the people doing the work every day. Marketing is the ultimate team sport, and every CMO who entered recognised the importance of staff in accomplishing brand and strategic objectives now and into the future.

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