CFO World

8 things you should know about the modern CMO

CMO delves into eight facets of the modern chief marketing officer's role to understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie

Understanding how to juggle the many hats a chief marketing officer (CMO) needs to wear these days isn’t easy.

There’s the digital economy sweeping in on one front, transforming how business is conducted and revenue generated, and ever-more stringent corporate accountability on the other. Customers have taken control of the brand and product conversation, changing all the marketing rules, and there’s a technology and data minefield to navigate if you want to stay on top of them.

There’s also who knows how many social channels to try to embrace in a way that consumers will consider ‘cool’. Then of course, there’s the leadership and staffing challenges that come with all of it, as well as the business of creativity itself.

Here, we take a look at eight key traits and trends governing the role of the modern CMO.

1. They’re certified geeks

At least that’s the label the VP of products at Globys, Glenn Pingul, uses to describe the reliance marketing chiefs now have on data, insights and technology to drive strategy. According to him, this ‘geekification of the CMO’ has been driven by three factors: The natural evolution of marketing models from pure growth and acquisition to retention and lifetime value; the rise of marketing to executive level and the quantitative approach required with that; and the transition to online-based and more quantifiable marketing activity.

“CMOs can’t just deliver results, they also need to explain what’s working,” he said. “Whether they’re delivering value above expectations or not, those days of not knowing what’s effective are running out.”

Former CEO of Eloqua, Joe Payne, agrees. “A CMO today has to be analytical,” he said in an interview last year with CMO US. “Since the buying process is now all measurable, you must have the analytical skills to understand what’s happening at every stage of the buying process and how to optimise marketing to drive better results.”

2. They’re not yet serious candidates for the top job

Marketing might be increasingly important in the whole corporate strategy, but that hasn’t yet triggered a holistic move towards promoting CMOs to CEO positions. So why aren’t there swathes of marketing leaders moving into general management roles?

According to regional director for marketing and digital at recruitment firm Michael Page, Richard Wynn, this could be because marketers aren’t broadening their business experience enough. This is something Heat Group founder and former marketer, Gillian Franklin, has experienced herself.

“Marketers need to move out of marketing in terms of the way they talk to people and work with people, and really spread their tentacles far and wide and learn about all aspects of the business,” she said.

“So you have the core requirement, but you also understand how much cash you need, how the supply chain works, what sales needs, how IT works, etc.”

Another aspect is demonstrating marketing’s effectiveness. According to the 2013 Marketing Performance Management Survey, just 9 per cent of CEOs and 5 per cent of CFOs leverage marketing data for strategic planning.

“Most marketing dashboards usually focus on operational efficiencies such as on-time delivery, budget, productivity, campaign performance and lead data,” the report authors stated.

“In contrast, c-level executives are looking for results that highlight the effectiveness of activity and programs as well as metrics helping them make strategic recommendations.”

Last year’s Australian Marketing Institute and Deloitte study, Marketing’s Role in the Boardroom: An Evaluation Framework for Boards and Directors, positioned this lack of knowledge another way, suggesting boards haven’t yet come to grips with the strategic importance of marketing or measured its previous and future performance appropriately. To combat this, CMOs need to speak the language of business, as well as show them what’s possible in the new digital economy.

Tenure is another potential factor in the move to CEO. While the average tenure of a CMO has increased from two to nearly four years in recent times, it still may not be long enough to get on the radar of senior leadership, AMI’s chief, Mark Crowe, said.

3. They still don’t trust the CIO

While there’s plenty being said on the importance of the relationship between marketing and IT, the reality is that many CMOs and CIOs still don’t trust each other. According to an Accenture survey of CIOs and CMOs last year, this is because there’s a massive disconnect between how they view technology, the customer, and the way they work together.

For example, CMOs expect a much quicker turnaround and higher quality from IT, with a greater level of flexibility in responding to market conditions. Forty-five per cent of those surveyed also wanted to enable their employees to access and use data and content without IT intervention.

In contrast, 49 per cent of CIOs said marketing pulls in technologies without consideration for IT standards, while 36 per cent of CMOs said IT deliverables fall short of their expectations. This has created a major trust issue between the two sides.

SAS global CMO, Jim Davis, believes the best scenario is for CIOs and CMOs to become interchangeable. “The best situation would be if you look at your CIO and say they could be the CMO, and you look at your CMO and say they could be the CIO. That’s what we should be striving for – the CMO should know enough about what technology can do for the organisation as the CIO,” he told CMO during an interview last year.

“The CIO also needs to understand what all that technology can do for the organisation and how it can interact with the customer.

“Think about it: What makes a relationship work? It’s that keen understanding of each other’s interest. If CMOs and CIOs don’t have that keen understanding of each other’s interest, they won’t stay married, let alone date.”

4. They’re all about the customer

With customers now in control of the relationship between themselves and brands, CMOs have to respond accordingly, cleverly using the data, analytics and various digital channels at their disposal to build a complete customer vision.

For the CMO of Vodafone Hutchison Australia, Kim Clarke, having a healthy respect for what’s driving customer experience is vital as a CMO. “You need to know what your customers are experiencing,” she told CMO in an interview last May. “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.”

According to an Econsultancy and Responsys survey, State of Customer Engagement Report , CMOs need to create an envisaged goal for their organisation that includes not just the softer benefits of marketing, but also the hard, long-term value and profitability benefits of a customer-centric view.

“The c-level team is looking to drive competitive advantage, and through multiple research and survey it has been made clear that higher customer engagement drives all things that create sustainable and long-term competitive advantage,” Responsys Asia-Pacific president, Paul Cross, said following the release of the report.

5. They’re comfortable leading change

As their own job becomes more strategic and diversified, CMOs are earning a reputation as agents of change. For Dachis Group and former CMO, Erin Nelson Mulligan, this is because they are the chief customer officer and therefore must lead the way for delivering against drastically changing consumer behaviour and needs.

“The CMOs that relish that influential role and look to figure out how to be change agents in their companies will do very well,” she said. “It’ll become increasingly harder for folks that want to just stay focused on their function. As I look to what companies will be looking for from presidents and CEOs in the future, data fluency, incredible insight into the marketplace and how you drive change are great capabilities CMOs should become more comfortable with.”

G2M Solutions founder and MD, Chris Fell, agreed modern CMOs must act as change managers “more than they ever have before”.

As Scott Brinker of Ion Interactive puts it, CMOs are now required to collaborate with every department, revolutionise customer experiences, leverage new technology, and pushing the boundaries of creativity.

“Your own department is a microcosm of disruptive innovation,” Brinker wrote in a blog post on <i>CMO</i>.

“You're reorganising to deal with converged media. You're restructuring for a new generation of marketing operations and marketing technology capabilities. You're embracing data-driven decision making, without losing sight of the value of experience, intuition and judgment. You're encouraging widespread use of controlled experiments to pursue bolder ideas with less risk. You're adopting new management approaches such as agile and lean.

“You’re practising the diplomatic role of change agent every day.”

Page Break

6. They can tell a good story

Marketers are known for favouring a bit of spin, but with 69 per cent of Australian marketers planning to increase their investment in content marketing activities in 2014, the ability to craft a good brand story and target it to the personality and preferences of the individual is critical.

David Newberry, group marketing officer at customer management software provider, Pitney Bowes, claimed marketing as a discipline comes down to three things: Understanding customers by tapping into data and information about that individual; interacting with them via appropriate channels of communication; and creating an emotional, personal bond through content.

“Content is really the third leg of the stool, and it always has been,” he said. “It has become more important because of the sheer number of messages available today, and because of the fragmentation of channels.”

When it comes to the content marketing dos and don’ts, story relevance, brand fit, credibility, distribution, shareability and one-to-one interaction are all vital.

“Content marketing is about being able to tell stories that inspire and inform people at the same time,” Tourism Australia CMO, Nick Baker, said. What many organisations fail to recognise, however, is that no content should be produced or curated in isolation.

In addition, while a highly emotive piece of content might work for an emotionally suggestive brand, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the same strategy should be used for a B2B product or service.

“If it’s not relevant, or not a clear call to action, it’s a wasted effort,” Baker claimed. “There must be a business reason and business context if you’re going to do it at all. There are organisations out there that say content must be engaging, but if it’s not integrated with the rest of your plan, it’s just content.”

7. They’re not just about marketing

The role of CMO is so diverse that many now claim it’s not really about marketing at all. In fact, research undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2013 claimed CMOs are in the midst of an identity crisis, as they and their executive peers struggle to define the parameters of the role successfully.

For example, 19 per cent of CMOs in the EIU report said driving revenue growth was their top priority against 30 per cent of other c-suite executives. Twenty-two per cent of marketers also claimed creating new products and services was the top priority, yet just nine per cent of their c-level peers agreed.

In addition, 70 per cent of CMOs believe they should play a lead or key role in selecting new markets to enter, compared with 56 per cent of their c-suite peers. Nearly half those surveyed also claimed a disconnect over what marketing should be delivering.

“Part of the issue may be that the CMOs oversee what is arguably the broadest and most dynamic mix of disciplines among all c-suite positions,” the original EIU report stated. “While this far-reaching portfolio presents an opportunity for CMOs to increase marketing’s influence across an organisation, it also highlights their greatest challenge: getting everyone to agree on marketing’s priorities.”

<i>Forbes</i> columnist, Dean Crutchfield, claimed the evolution of the role of CMO has triggered what he calls the ‘eclectic CMO’. “Now more than ever, the role requires being myopic about the consumer, fanatical about innovation and a leader in the c-suite,” he wrote in October.

“Increasingly CMOs succeed when they have an eclectic background that ranges from deep strategy, team leadership, PR through to operations, commercial acumen and information technology know-how.”

An excellent example, Crutchfield said, is JC Penney JCP -0.46%’s decision to appoint Jan Hodges as senior VP of sales promotion, a role that has similar duties to the vacant CMO role. Hodges has spent most of her career rising through the ranks of merchandising and managing JC Penney’s salon business and has never held a formal marketing role.

ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster, saw the CMO’s job becoming more like that of the CEO. “Previously the CMO was intrinsically entwined with all aspects of marketing, but the role is becoming more like a conductor leading a variety of musicians as the skillset is becoming too broad for one person. It now involves other diverse areas like data, technology, IT, creative and PR,” Sangster said in a blog post for <i>CMO</i>.

In a post for Firebrand Talent last year, marketing veteran and commentator, Damien Cummings, also pointed out a modern CMO needs to have a deep understanding of technology and how it affects customer behaviour. “Programs like CRM, digital marketing, social media, e-commerce and lead generation all need strong guidance from marketing,” he said.

“There’s even speculation that CMO and CIO roles will merge into a chief digital officer role in the near future. Regardless, modern CMOs need to be experts in technology to be successful.”

Dachis Group’s Erin Mulligan Nelson said no three CMOs are the same. “Look at CFOs as a comparative example: It’s clear what CFOs do. They manage accounting, treasury, financial planning and analysis, and pretty much every one has the same job description. That means it’s fairly easy to consistently measure and manage how a CFO is performing versus their colleagues,” she said.

“CMOs are all over the board. I don’t think we’re getting to a point anytime soon where all CMOs have the same job description either. It’s about figuring out where you drive value, what you’re accountable for and making sure you can measure and articulate against that value no matter what the job description is so you become invaluable to the rest of the c-suite.”

8. They need more data scientists

As more organisations look to data for competitive advantage and customer intelligence, led by the marketing team, the demand for data analytics skills rises. Filling that data scientist gap is already becoming difficult and things are predicted to get a lot worse.

To cope, the IT Leadership Academy has suggested CMOs adopt an ‘ensemble’ approach to the deficit in analytical skills.

“You have to create a portfolio of talent within a team,” Scott Friesen, director for marketing analytics and customer insights at Ulta Beauty, suggested. “For example, you might have someone who is a great statistician but doesn't know database query mechanisms. So someone else on the team does the SQL pulls for the statistician, who hands off to the best communicator. That is who communicates the message to the business.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia

Signup to CMO’s email newsletter to receive your weekly dose of targeted content for the modern marketing chief.