Editorial: 3 marketing trends to take away from this year’s CMO50 list

This year's list of innovative and effective chief marketing officers is proof of the transformation going on in marketing


Three years of the CMO50 list brings with it significant insight into how the role of marketing leadership has evolved in Australia.

The CMO50 list is about recognising the most innovative and effective modern marketers in this country. This year, we received a record number of entries in 2017, proof of the ongoing interest and support for our CMO50 program. And the high calibre of our submissions certainly made the judges’ decision on who to include in the list and in what order, a difficult one.

The intention of the CMO50 is to highlight and celebrate the great work our Australian marketing chiefs – and by extension, their whole marketing function – are doing in the face of dramatic change. It’s about recognising those brave souls who are striving to harness all the trappings of modern marketing, from data and digital capability and customer-led values, to commercial accountability, collaborative nous, innovative and strategic thinking, and resilience and adaptability.

Check out the 2017 CMO50 list here

There are three things that really stood out for me as we went through the process of deciding this year’s list, which I wanted to share with CMO readers.

1.CMOs are gaining a broader remit

The first is just how far marketers have come since we launched the CMO50 three years ago. And indeed, the extent to which marketing as a profession has progressed since we launched CMO in Australia four-and-a-half years ago.

Last year, change was the name of the game for CMOs in the CMO50 list. Most with any executive standing are being asked to lead transformation of some sort. If you wanted proof marketing itself was undergoing systematic transformation, then our nominees are it.  

For some, change has been couched as digital transformation, for others it’s being customer-centric and leading with experience. Then there’s data and analytics, which is touching everything from how customer insights are gleaned, to how we automate and make the marketing function more efficient and engagement more personalised at scale.

All of these transformation agendas point to one thing: Organisations realising they have to overhaul the way they go-to-market if they’re going to stay relevant and hold any form of competitive advantage.

So for me, a significant takeaway from this year’s CMO50 is how wide the marketer’s sphere of influence is becoming. Australia’s top marketers are commanding ever-higher levels of authority in companies across the country.

A great stat from this year’s CMO50 in fact is that 74 per cent are reporting directly to the CEO, up from 56 per cent last year. And 84 per cent report directly to the CEO.

Marketers leading the way today are going well beyond the traditional 4Ps. They’re required to be technologists, agents of change, customer custodians, experience orchestrators, digital strategists, chief engagement officers – the list goes on. Our CMO50 this year is a blueprint of how far the CMO remit is extending.

And if last year’s list was a lesson in the willingness of CMOs to expand their knowledge, teams and shake-up their functions, this year’s is proof of how actively they’re seeking to – and achieving – wider transformation of their organisation.

It’s one of the first things that struck our 2017 CMO50 judges. AANA CEO, John Broome, described the scale and breadth of today’s marketing chief as “extraordinary”, noting the growing responsibility for areas such as digital product and strategy, customer, sales and experience. Nominations this year paint marketers as collaborators, from customer service and experience to HR, IT, sales, finance, digital, the CEO, innovation and legal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every marketer in the CMO50 has it all worked out. Most of our submissions were stories of evolution; case studies of how marketers are building foundations and friendships across their organisations to realise their dreams of customer-led nirvana.

2.CMOs all want to be agile

This leads me to a second major trend across the CMO50: The growing desire to find more adaptive ways of working. I have to say, if this year’s leaders are any guide, every single marketer in this country right now has put up their function as a guinea pig for rolling out ‘agile’. Although the level of wholesale success they’re having with this is a question mark.

Every nomination included an example of how ‘agile marketing’ is being adopted. Some were little more than lessons in the scientific principles of an Agile methodology, others were grassroots and more culturally accepted, then of course there were those that had sprung from IT but were now ensuring marketing and technology functions are working more harmoniously.

In fact, our judges highlighted the distinction between “agile and agility”, but recognised that upwards of 70 per cent of our nominees this year were showing an understanding of what it takes to adopt agile-based marketing.

Being a more agile team is a trend that’s also seen most marketers bring specific skills in-house, from content production to social media management, customer insights and media buying.

3.CMOs know marketing is a data-driven and CX-led game

And our third trend across the 2017 CMO50? A push to better understand and respond to customer needs and expectations across the wider purchase cycle through data and technology investment.

Data and building “the single customer view” was a commonly discussed topic, and our list shows varying degrees of sophistication around this.

Experienced CMO and consultant, David Morgan, one of our judges, saw the benchmark for ‘marketing 2.0’ stepping up as technical expertise is embedded across Australian marketing teams. He said: “Marketers locally are learning and putting CX and technology into play.” 

Zuni managing director, Mike Zeederberg, another CMO50 judge, believed Australia’s marketers are just arriving at best practice, having made huge strides forward in customer and commercial capability. “That then raises the question: Is that enough? That’s where the standouts were in our CMO50 nominations this year.” 

Because the thing is, the bar of what’s good marketing keeps getting higher. Which is also why so many CMOs are realising the technology stacks they’ve been investing in in the last four years are only going to get them one-third of the way to success. People and process are arguably more important in the modern marketing equation.

It was refreshing to see so many of our nominees working hard to address the people and process revolution that also comes with marketing maturity.

So what does this all say about the state of Australia’s marketing community? It’s evident marketing is on a maturity curve. And I’d suggest we’re only half-way to realising these ambitions.

Shortening tenure, issues controlling the levels across the wider end-to-end customer experience, too many risk-averse financiers leading Australian organisations, a lack of sufficient next-generation skillsets around data and technology, short termism – all of these roadblocks are stopping marketers from achieving these ambitions.

But boy are they keen to try. So it’s a big congratulations to all our CMO50 for their sensational efforts in bringing about marketing 2.0. Kudos should go to all those who entered for being brave and inspiring others in our industry to change and adapt, too.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

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