Editorial: What the CMO50 tells us about how marketing must be done differently

This year's CMO50 of Australia's most effective and innovative marketing leaders is a lesson in the ever-expanding remit of the modern marketing chief

Is it my job, or isn’t it? I suspect this is a question every chief marketing officer asks on a daily basis. And in reading this year’s CMO50 profiles, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a question lacking a straight answer.

The 2019 CMO50 list of Australia’s most innovative and effective marketing leaders tells us an aptitude for learning and a willingness to transform are vital if you’re going to be successful as a CMO today. Because there is no one playbook for what marketing is and isn’t. The modern marketing chief is a chameleon: They acclimatise to suit whatever they need to be in the eyes of their CEO and customer.

What’s great to see is how many marketing chiefs realise adaptability is the name of the game and are endeavouring to do things differently. In some instances, it’s transformation of team structure and capability to better reflect the needs of personalised marketing; in others, it’s adopting new ways of working, such as Agile, allowing cross-functional collaboration to flourish. There’s a wealth of examples where CMOs have been encouraging teams to think outside the square, increasingly supported by data and customer insight as well as technology and digital investment. 

Examples of better aligning marketing to business strategy and ambition also abound. Across submissions, CMOs talked about rebrands and brand repositioning work, but in the context of purpose and growth, rather than campaigns. And across the board, CMO50 judges saw standards rising. All agreed solid work was being undertaken by CMOs in this country to ensure their function is as relevant, adaptable and commercially minded as it can possibly be.

But equally, the boundaries of what marketing is, and what it isn’t, remain incredibly blurry. For our judges, one concern is marketers are trying to be everything to everyone. What’s more, commercial acumen is still perceived to be below par, particularly if CMOs are looking to make the leap to CEO in the future.

In a recent interview, Sportsbet’s former CMO and now CEO, Barni Evans, suggested a persistent issue is CEOs, CFOs and boards just don’t trust marketers enough. It’s not because they expect their marketing chiefs to be perfect; it’s because they know not everything is going to work.

“You need to have the integrity to analyse your work effectively, then the numeracy to decipher forensically whether something worked or not, and if it did, how, or if not, what didn’t work so you can change it,” Evans said. “I knew several times a year, I’d need the board to trust my instinct. Quite often as marketers, we’re doing something for the first time, which means there is no precedent. I’d have to say to the board, we’ve got some data, done some modelling and have some insights. But truth be told, the margin for error in predicting how it’ll go is so wide, you’re going to have to trust my judgment.

“In that moment, they’ll only say yes if you’ve accumulated a track record of reporting faithfully to them on what marketing activity has been successful and what hasn’t.”

There’s a lesson in here for all of us. And it’s not just about the numbers. As CMO50 judges pointed out, inspiring leadership also requires creativity, vulnerability, clear communication skills, trust and a willingness to learn and be bold when the situation calls for it. This year’s CMO50 exhibit these traits, even as they realise they need to do more.

Check out profiles of all 50 of this year's CMO50, as well as our 3 ones to watch, here.


So congratulations to those in our list this year, and the teams working with them. Here’s to many more tales of inspiring leadership. 

 

 

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