8 skills chief marketing officers can't live without

We ask a host of Australian and global CMOs to size up the key skill sets needed by today's modern marketing leader

Ask anyone for their opinion on the role of the chief marketing officer and you’re bound to hear one thing over and over again: It’s changing. Gone are the days when marketers were relegated to a corner of the office and produced glossy brochures or print ads; today, marketing leaders are business game-changers, customer advocates, data-driven innovators and cross-functional market translators.

Of course, knowing what skills are needed in a world where CMOs finally command corporate respectability is a little more difficult. Tasked with everything from lead generation and sales support to spearheading customer centricity, product development, digital strategy, data management and even technology procurement, these marketing leaders could be forgiven for feeling rather schizophrenic.

We’ve spoken to dozens of Australian and global CMOs and come up with a list of the top 8 skills modern marketing chiefs believe are vital to doing the job well.

1. Mental ambidexterity

According to Wotif Group general manager of marketing, Michael Betteridge, success comes from a CMO’s ability to bring together the best of science and art to their daily duties. “The role requires a combination of strong creative brain, as well as an analytical one,” he tells CMO.

He’s not alone – ask anyone these days what makes a successful CMO tick, and they’ll tell you it’s the data. However, that doesn’t mean creativity doesn’t have a place in the toolkit. Mi9 managing director of data and analytics, Richard McLaren, might be tasked with managing the data-driven side of things, but it’s the creative ideas that are needed to fuel real innovation and change, he says.

“You need the machine to prove you are right, but the balance is that we want people to have original ideas and be able to spend more of their time thinking of crazy stuff that we can then test,” he says.

Telstra director of one-to-one marketing, Nick Adams, claims good creative instinct can never be replaced, but today must be more informed, structured and based on customer needs and interests derived from data analytics.

“I’ve seen an emerging trend that both data and technology are displacing the role creative once played, however it must feed into the process as opposed to replace it,” he says. “Marketing organisations are now looking to automate the production of their creative effort and directing more investment and resource into technology and data-driven marketing activity, however it should never be an ‘or’ proposition.”

2. Executive-level influence

Marketing may once have been labelled the “colouring-in department” (to borrow a phrase from Telstra CMO, Mark Buckman), but those days are long gone. Thanks to the rise of customer centricity and digital interaction, CMOs are increasingly being offered a seat at the executable table. At Wotif Group for example, marketing has two seats, says Betteridge.

“You need to be able to work across a diverse, busy and focused executive group,” he advises. “You have to make sure you have the respect and audience for how marketing can help the business.”

CMOs need to have commercial nous if they expect to be respected by their executive peers, adds Buckman. “CMOs need to be able to run a business,” he says.

You have to make sure you have the respect and audience for how marketing can help the business

- Mark Buckman, Telstra

PGI senior vice-president of strategy and marketing for Asia-Pacific, Melissa Wong, positions a CMO as a “translation tool” between the cross functions stretching from IT, sales and product development through to the board. “This ability to talk to all functions is core to a marketer, bur understanding that wasn’t as pronounced 10 years ago,” she claims.

But an often overlooked aspect by marketers of this business leadership piece is looking over the horizon, says Workshare CMO, Ali Moinuddin. “Not only think about how to build a pipeline to meet the quarter’s numbers, but have a three-year strategy in terms of where we are going to position the company,” he advises.

“How is the market going to change and how is the company going to adapt to serve your customers’ future needs?”

3. Agility

For veteran marketer and chief strategy officer at the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), Rob Langtry, good CMOs all share the trait of agility.

“The one key factor you have to have at this level is the mental ability to cope and drive change,” he claims. “It’s not necessarily new to talk about marketing that way; what is new is the pace you face today and the requirements that places on your agility.”

Ion Interactive chief technology officer and marketing industry commentator, Scott Brinker, positions agile as more than just a pretty adjective when it comes to being a CMO. He points out a recent survey of marketing executives conducted by Forrester and the Business Marketing Association found 96 per cent agreed the pace of change in technology and marketing will continue to accelerate.

“This is the new normal,” he adds.

4. Numeracy

It’s not surprising that with the rise of data-driven marketing and pressure to demonstrate ROI, successful CMOs are true masters of the numbers. AWI’s Langtry believes that however hard CMOs try to stay at a strategic level, they can’t help but they their hands dirty. “The ability to sift through the amount of data available and apply a statistician’s common sense to it all is important these days,” he says.

Dachis Group CEO and former CMO, Erin Mulligan-Nelson, agrees modern CMOs should be fluent enough to understand what the organisation needs when it comes to data. “With the rise of data and the capabilities we have today, you need to understand what you need and how you deploy it effectively in the organisation,” she claims.

According to ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster, CMOs won’t have to know all the programs and every aspect of technology but they will need to be more knowledgeable about data and technology than ever before.

“They need to know enough so they can drive a marketing strategy underpinned by data and technology,” she says. “Understanding technology is compulsory skillset that would never been have required from a traditional marketer.”

5. Customer advocacy

As the people closest to the customer, it’s only natural CMOs should lead customer centricity and experience within their organisation. For Nelson, CMOs must be “incredibly tuned in” to customers and prospects. “The most effective CMOs are the ones who best understand the marketplace and are translating those needs into the things their company is doing to drive value,” she says.

CommVault CMO, David West, warns CMOs not to lose sight of customer experience as part of any customer strategy. “While many CMOs think their job is to generate branding and prospects, the critical component is what is the customer experience; why do they buy it from you, why do they continue to do business with you, what’s important to them and how do you become a trusted advisor to your audience,” he says.

“CMOs must promote knowledge so our consumers can take what we have, leverage those assets so they can be a more informed buyer and therefore have a tighter bond and relationship with our company.”

Vodafone Hutchison Australia CMO, Kim Clarke, also sees successful marketing leaders as the ones that completely get what their customer is going through. “The world is moving on and you also need to know what your customers are experiencing,” she says.

“You need to be able to take that information – whether that’s being channelled via digital, social or mobile – and plug that into your thinking, how you communicate, as well as use it to inform the products and services you deliver.”

6. Vision

Just like CEOs, CMOs are increasingly expected to share and distil a clear vision across their teams and the wider company. “You need to excite legions of functions, not just marketers, to figure out how to go after those customer opportunities,” explains Nelson. “Skills to distil and provide a vision, drive excitement and get people united around the goal of serving the market place are vital.”

BAE Systems Detica’s first CMO, Morag Lucey, sees decisive vision as a cornerstone of the role. “Be visionary, look outside and understand what’s happening and how you fit into that,” she says.

Tourism Australia executive general manager of consumer marketing, Nick Baker, is another one who believes in CMOs being the innovator and stresses the importance of the CMO’s role in inspiring organisations around ideas.

“You are at the forefront of idea generation and innovation and how you inspire organisations and lead your team through that is a critical ability in whether you succeed or not,” he claims.

As well as agreeing that modern marketing chiefs must look to the edge of their organisation to find new ideas and innovate, Tourism NT CMO, Adam Coward, says being a leader today involves embracing the new-age focus on simplification, new technologies, understanding the global world and always being connected.

“People need to see a leader as someone who is prepared to take them into new worlds,” he says. “The model I use is emotional/intellectual/social. Emotional reflects things like self-awareness, empathy and courage. Intellectually, it’s about creativity, systems, patterns and having a world view. The social point of view is the idea of followership; the ecosystem and community we’re all members of is important.”

7. Team player

Morag also emphasises the way successful CMOs are team players. “We are in the midst of repositioning [at BAE Systems Detica] and we have some really heavy lifting to do. If I didn’t have a solid team that I can trust and work with, it wouldn’t be done,” she says.

MYOB general manager of marketing, Caroline Ruddick, believes part of her role is around thought leadership, a position which involves questioning and directing her team.

“When I first started my career, I thought I was right 100 per cent of the time, and it has been a journey as I’ve matured and gained experience, to learn that you can’t have all the right answers all the time,” she says. “It’s about empowering my team to make the decisions, because they may have a better answer than I do.”

Former CommBank CMO, Andy Lark, extends the importance of team camaraderie to advocating ideas from across teams. In fact, he sees the idea of CMO as “creators” as overstated, and says innovation is where the focus now needs to be.

“The place to start is at the edge of our teams,” he said. “We need to encourage innovation there because that is where the ideas are. So much of the entrepreneurial energy is there as well.”

Coward finds success comes from utilising new talent pools. “In the past, people would have given all the respect to experience and while that is always going to be an incredibly important part of the process, respect for the new has come through,” he comments.

“I ask new team members big questions because you get a very different view of the world, and that’s where leadership sometimes has to go to get its edge.”

8. Passion for learning

Given the rapid amount of change to marketing’s role, it’s clear the list of attributes CMOs must cultivate also continues to evolve. Tourism Australia’s Baker makes the point that CMOs have to keep learning if they wish to remain successful.

“For modern CMOs, learning is a vital part of what they have to continue to do,” he points out. PGI’s Wong also believes marketing leaders must be passionate about learning as well as keep embracing emerging technologies and change. “Look at change as an opportunity learn, and then look at how it is going to help your customers and the balance,” she advises. “It’s a balance of iQ and eQ.”

Like his other CMO peers, Deloitte Australia’s David Redhill, has had to constantly re-evaluate his position, as well as the role of marketing within the professional services organisation. His view is that the marketing discipline is following IT from the fringes of the business to its centre.

“Marketing is still on that journey because many boards still don’t recognise us as strategic,” he claimed. “If you think about IT 30 years ago, it was mainframes in the basement and now it’s on your desk and the way you do business. Marketing-centric thinking is actually client-centric thinking and that’s becoming recognised.”

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