Why this year's CMO50 is a lesson in bravery

Being bold isn’t the only thing modern CMOs must do – they’re also required to put that courage to the test, as this year’s CMO50 list highlights.

If there’s one big lesson to take away from this year’s CMO50 list, it’s this: Marketers must have the courage of their convictions to survive in their jobs.

If there’s a second, it’s building solid foundations inside and outside the marketing function is absolutely vital for not only seeing those convictions through, but doing the job with aplomb.

It’s the fourth edition of CMO’s list of Australia’s most innovative and effective marketers. During that time, it’s become evident the marketing leader’s remit is the widest it’s ever been. Experimentation in the function hasn’t shown any signs of slowing, either. This year’s listees boast responsibility for everything from ecommerce and digital capability to customer experience functions, service, innovation, technology, diversity and inclusion, international business planning, and cross-functional ways of working.

What’s also clear is just how much hard work, skill, adaptability and sheer resilience goes into finding and demonstrating success as a CMO today. Equally, judges applauded a growing distinction between strategic and commercial marketing leaders who wield substantial influence and power across their organisations, and traditional operators.

Former tier-one brand CMO and now consultant, David Morgan, was impressed by the demonstrable strategic leadership and thinking behind submissions presented to CMO50 judges this year.

There’s less campaign and more customer focus, for one, and questionnaires overflowed with compelling customer-focused initiatives and activities in the last 12 months.

“We’re also seeing more generals in our top 10 and they’re operating in a different way to how marketing has operated in the past,” Morgan said during the judges meeting.

Of particular note for Morgan was Tourism Australia’s Lisa Ronson, who arguably “bet the mortgage” executing the big ‘Dundee’ US campaign; and The a2 Milk Company’s Susan Massasso, who in five years has transformed the way marketing contributes as the business goes after global growth.

Commercial aptitude

Former Telstra and Virgin marketer, Inese Kingsmill, saw plenty of commendable examples of direct commercial responsibility and ownership across the CMO50, with marketers using data and results to secure a greater presence in the boardroom and at an executive level. She believed accountability was a big theme to come out from submissions, from the smallest to largest organisations represented.

It’s worth pointing out 93 per cent of this year’s list are members of their organisation’s executive leadership team, up from 84 per cent in 2017, and just shy of eight in 10 report directly to the CEO/MD.

“I was impressed with how many are directly reporting to the CEO. By doing so, you can make much more impact with closer proximity,” Kingsmill said.

The industry breakdown across this year's CMO50 list
The industry breakdown across this year's CMO50 list


Former CMO, board member and consultant, John Batistich, was equally struck with the shift CMOs are making into a voice of leadership, attributing this partly to greater consumer demand on organisations today. “The CMO is a big role in transformation,” he said.

What came out strongly for former Seven West Media sales director and fellow judge, Adam Elliott, was just how quickly things are moving. “That pace of change inspired me,” he said.

“CMOs are orchestrating major changes in their businesses. I can’t think of another time that’s happened in the last five or 10 years.”

Former Coca-Cola marketing director, Lisa Winn, cited a difference between marketing chiefs with vision versus those that lack strategic insight.

“There are lots of conversations around bringing in voice of the customer, and bringing capabilities in-house. There’s also increasing focus on ROI and shifting from articulating quantity to quality, which is harder,” she said. “CMOs are actively trying to measure their efforts. The ones standing out had figured what it is that’s important to measure for their business. That might be brand momentum, not NPS.

“The flip side is digitisation and being driven by short-term metrics. It was those combining results who stood out. There’s still a lot of confusion around what to measure.”

Professional board executive and former CMO, Georgie Williams, noted the focus on linking functions, initiatives, data and technology across the organisation, claiming CMOs are getting better at it every year.

“At the top end of town, it’s obvious strategic thinking is key, while at the bottom end of our industry, it’s more about advertising, not wider marketing. The top of the list are influencing the products, services and offers, and have a real seat at the table,” she said.

Brand purpose is an example, and a number of individuals pointed to work being undertaken to build their organisation’s credentials in a customer context. Zuni managing director, Mike Zeederberg, highlighted how much this was helping elevate the role of the CMO as well as marketing as a growth contributor. He also cited marketing’s strengthening role in product and innovation, and efforts to bring customer insight and thinking into what products should be.

Of course there were plenty of buzzwords in submissions this year, from agility to marketing and advertising tech talk, to design thinking and customer centricity. The best CMOs didn’t just put the martech stack in, invest in a channel or adopt a framework, they could articulate why they’d done it. Importantly, they demonstrated strong operating cadences as a result.

“What’s OK versus not OK to use is a question increasingly being raised too, and those leading the way are using good planning and strategy to decide this,” Williams said.

CMO tenure

But while the CMO50 is arguably about inspiring success stories, the very real issue of CMO tenure needs to be addressed.

This year there are 29 new entrants on the list. It’s a number partly attributable to wider knowledge of and increasing appreciation for the job the CMO50 is doing to showcase the credibility and professional standing of marketing today.

But it’s also a reflection of how quickly CMOs are leaving their roles.

Of those who secured a placed in 2017, 22 have left the roles they were listed for. The good news is three gained internal promotions, earning either operation-level or global responsibility. Yet similarly, this year’s State of the CMO survey found average tenure of the CMO sitting at two years and 10 months. A number of other reports suggest tenure is shrinking globally.

Notably, the 2018 CMO50 list boasts a higher tenure on average – three years and seven months. Importantly, if you look at total tenure based on organisation rather than job function, the average across this year’s leaders sits well over five years.

As Batistich put it, it takes time to build plans, take others with you on the journey and deliver sustainable results. This year’s CMO50 clearly demonstrate how longevity pays much bigger dividends. It was this willingness to stick it out and eat what they cooked which judges this year were keen to reward.

As leaders of change, CMOs are in the hot seat for demonstrating adaptability and resiliency. This year’s listees have made huge strides building these attributes across their functions as well as their wider businesses. And it’s arguably by seeing change through the CMO50 have proven their mettle the most.

You can find the full list and profiles of this year's CMO50 list in our special CMO50 portal here.


 

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