The role of the CMO is evolving: Are you keeping up?

Sheryl Pattek

Sheryl Pattek is vice-president, executive partner at Forrester Research

My (amazing) vacation in the Galapagos Islands earlier in the year got me thinking about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. Many of you may already know this, but Darwin visited Australia 180 years ago and this visit had a role to play in his understanding of the world.

On this same voyage where he also visited Galapagos, Darwin discovered various species of the finch, which played a large role in the creation of his theory. While these birds look and act similarly, there are actually 14 different species – all of which evolved overtime to survive harsh and unique conditions on the Islands.

Now compare these nimble finches to giant tortoises: They can weigh up to 1000 pounds without a pressing need to evolve. They are happy to live out their lives as they have for more than 4 million years as is. Interesting, right? But what does this have to do with the role of today’s CMO? Plenty.

Just as Darwin’s finches faced dramatic changes in their environment that forced the evolution of their beak to survive, the post-digital era we live in has turned the CMO role upside down. Today’s CMOs have never faced more opportunity or complexity, and firms now expect CMOs to be experts not only in brand and customer acquisition, but also technology, data analytics, and customer experience (CX). And Australian CMOs are no exception.

To survive and thrive in our new era, today’s CMOs cannot have a giant tortoise mentality. Instead, they must resemble Darwin’s mighty finches and evolve to master this new marketing universe — a data-driven, highly-segmented, customer-centric, and omnichannel world.

Forrester partnered Heidrick & Struggles for the 2016 Evolved CMO report, which surveyed 275 CMOs to assess how their roles have evolved and to understand the keys for success moving forward. The research clearly shows that evolved CMOs who commit to understanding customers and to driving that philosophy throughout their organisations with a customer-obsessed mindset are those who can take charge in the c-suite. Here’s how:

Act as true business leaders on par with C-suite peers

After years of aspiring to be treated as more than functional experts, CMOs are finally proving their business chops. They are moving beyond brand, communications, and marketing execution to better quantify the impact of marketing’s work in business terms. Tasked with delivering against profit-and-loss metrics, our survey results show that CMOs are increasingly partnering with their peers to drive business and brand results. As they do so, today’s evolved CMOs are leading the charge to understand customers’ changing buying needs and potential external disruptions.

Assume responsibility for firm-wide CX

Today’s empowered customers have as much to say about what a brand stands for as the firm itself. CMOs understand that they now must transform into a customer-centric organisation that recognizes brand as an emotionally resonant experience that transcends product and service transactions. Evolved CMOs recognise that delivering on the brand promise means ensuring that all customer experiences align to a common brand vision.

To back this transformation, Forrester data shows that two-thirds of CMOs now have responsibility for CX, and 44 per cent would like to further grow their influence in customer experience. The Australian firms we surveyed understand the strategic importance of improving their customers' experiences, with half stating that improving their CX is their top strategic priority.

Prepare for digital disruption

Connected cars, RFID-enabled product tracking, and the internet of things are leading a digital revolution that will affect every industry. Nearly half of firms believe that digital has already disrupted their industry, and just more than half believe that they will see more disruption in 2016. Forty-two per cent of CMOs recognise the importance of building strong peer relationships with the head of product and research and development to build an innovation pipeline that helps the enterprise prepare for and respond to digital disruption.

Enhance influence into transformative areas of the company

As they get comfortable with their expanded CX responsibilities, evolved CMOs are eager for even more influence in their firms’ transformation. Our survey results show that 18 per cent seek greater involvement in business strategy 18 per cent while 12 per cent focused on business unit/P&L strategy.

Winning in the age of the customer requires a fundamental reset of a company’s operating model. Evolved CMOs are championing this transformation and taking on the challenges of culture and talent management, process redesign, as well as data and business technology realignment. Serving as the nexus of customer, market, and competitive knowledge, evolved CMOs sit in the cat bird’s seat and act as the customer advocate across the enterprise by bringing their knowledge about customers, markets, and competition to bear on defining the experiences that can best win, serve, and retain customers.

As a result, expect evolved CMOs’ stature and credibility in the c-suite to grow as smart CEOs increasingly depend on them for the customer insights that firms need to inform business growth strategies.

How is your role evolving? I’d love to hear from you via email, on myblogblog, or on my Twitter account with your thoughts.

Tags: marketing careers, CMO role, marketing strategy

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