To be on solid footing: Summing up the CMO50 2022

As CMO reveals our 8th annual top 50 list of Australia's most innovative and effective marketers, we ask the question: Just what is it going to take to give CMOs solid footing in the c-suite?

Are marketers proving their contribution to business growth? Or are they more fixated on simply articulating outcomes? Is a rebrand really innovative marketing? Are we entering another golden age of marketers driving product innovation? How far can the CMO’s scope go? Is one marketer’s customer ‘journey’ the same as another’s? And are marketers capitalising on the moments that actually matter in the pursuit of growth?

These are just some of the questions the CMO50 judging panel explored as we set about the task of compiling the eighth edition of the CMO50, our annual list recognising Australia’s most innovative and effective marketers. Never an easy task, this year’s nominees traversed a broad array of perspectives, remit, budgets, industries, skillsets and complexity, demonstrating the continued diversity in role and executive standing.

Half of our top 50 this year are new entrants to the CMO50 list, including three of the top 10. It’s worth noting seven of the top 10 come from longstanding, iconic and heritage brands, four of which sit in the retail sector. Equally worth mentioning is 31 of the top 50 this year are women, the highest ratio ever recorded.

Given the movement in senior marketers over the past year, it may be surprising to learn average role tenure remains similar, year-on-year at 3 years and 3 months (2021: 3 years, 1 month; 2020: 3 year 5 months). Less surprising is the skew in the top 10 towards Australian owned, listed or majority owned organisations, with such roles offering marketers’ ability to wield a wider set of functional capabilities and prowess.

Proving marketing's worth

Judges this year were quick to see the imperative to prove marketing’s value as many nominees shifted to illustrate impact through customer journeys, purpose, brand positioning and business delivery. At one point, judges turned to the importance of CMOs capitalising on moments versus rebranding. The latter was clearly a popular task in the last year.

Many judges favoured a CMO’s ability to build on momentum and take advantage of a situation. These traits were seen as indicative of trust and confidence in brand strategy and a bold willingness to stick to the story. Judges also ranked highly marketers owning up to challenges, articulating available choices clearly, then showing how they’d made the most of choices they selected.

“Historically, if you look at who is making the top 10 of the CMO50, they understand the brand, understand the why, they take a moment in market and capitalise on it,” longstanding CMO50 judge and non-executive board director, Georgie Williams, said. “The best marketers in the country know their ‘why’ and are really good at what they do with their brands. When Qantas was recognised last year, for example, it wasn’t about changing the brand but doubling down harder in market to take advantage of an opportunity. It was a similar situation with Tourism Australia in 2018. The great marketers are confident enough to hold a brand narrative.” 

Publicis Groupe chief, Michael Rebelo, saw a desire to rebrand and reposition playing out in briefs coming through the agency. While some is a desire to leave the last few years of the pandemic behind, Rebelo also saw ambition to counteract the shorter-term, performance activity dominating spend in recent years.

“With so much investment in bottom-of-funnel, smart marketers are realising they can’t just be talking to people in their organisations, they have to look at how to build brand for the long-term and attract new audiences,” he said. “Being very short-term focused is limiting and marketers are starting to see medium-term challenges resulting from this. There is a reckoning I believe happening given the proliferation of bottom-funnel marketing brands have invested in.”

Rebelo was also interested by the CMOs owning the commerce piece. “Usually, we have seen this in more tech-based platform businesses. It seems more traditional brands now see the value in the CMO owning commerce as well,” he said. Other judges noted examples of marketing chiefs driving product innovation this year, something expected in the world of 1990s Procter & Gamble but less prevalent over the last 10 years.

Impact versus storytelling

Former The a2 Milk Company CMO and non-executive board director, Susan Massasso, agreed to no shortage of achieving “double X, or double Y”, in submissions. She was keen to see more storytelling to support outcomes.

“I think this is very reflective of the environment CMOs sit in. There is not enough of a belief in the building of brands,” she commented. “Marketers are having to turn to defensive data to hold their position. So we’re seeing more of ‘I’ve achieved this and that, therefore I can justify what I’m doing’.

“I agree it’s also linked to the more recent emphasis on bottom-of-funnel activity. We’ve lost the art of telling a story and weaving a narrative. Some call this ‘purpose’, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be purpose. What it needs to be is an enduring story guiding the brand over many years.”

Several who exhibited this expertise were in long-term, heritage brands. “I can understand how hard it is [in an established, older brand]. The companies we saw spread from high growth to those challenged through Covid, to ones trying to find meaning in an older brand,” Massasso said. “Others have ridden the Covid wave. There was a bit of work unpacking the context when CMO50 judging.”

Former CMO and non-executive director, John Batistich, rewarded CMOs who were clear on strategy and goals. “Others I felt you had to dig and do the work. Customer journeys and personas were coming through. And there are still a wide range of performance measures,” he said. Batistich pointed to the connection between brand and employee branding and impact as another trend.

Andrew ‘Billy’ Baxter believed CMOs in bigger and more complex roles demonstrated refreshing maturity in the way they’re positioning their impact, particularly in global B2B roles. For Zuni MD, Mike Zeederberg, meanwhile, several nominations showed marketing becoming core to businesses, “rather than us just selling the stuff someone else came up with”.

“There were lots of entries featuring innovation… compared to previous years, and plenty of examples of marketers being involved in product and audience insights. Research has been dialled right up,” he said. “There were also several examples of CMOs working out where the gap was then coming up with some great work.”

For former CMO, marketing, leadership and business consultant and the CMO50’s longest serving judge, David Morgan, the question best summing up what judges looked for was: Has this person done what a CMO should do and grow a business?

“Can I hand on my heart say this person has done what the business requires of them? And can I attribute the growth to this person and their activity?” he asked. “When you do that, it’s quite easy to see there are a lot of folks in the middle, doing a great job of ‘jobbing’ and the mechanics of marketing. Rather than support the organisation, I want to see more marketers lead the organisation.

“As marketing moves forward as a function, we should be asking ourselves: Is growth what marketing is about anymore? Because too often, the function isn’t sitting at the growth table, which is c-level.

“If it’s not there, we need to think about where it does sit. But as someone who has been in marketing for a long time, I think we should be back there. So we need to find more ways as an industry to support them.” 

Check out the full CMO50 for 2022 here.

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