CMO50 editorial: What I think the modern CMO is all about

Nadia Cameron

Nadia founded and is the Publisher and Editor of CMO. A respected and award-winning industry Journalist and Editor with over 20 years’ experience, Nadia has maintained a focus on technology and business, working for titles such as CIO, Computerworld, PC World, Australian Reseller News (ARN), Exhibition News, Business Asia, and now CMO. From 2010 to 2012, Nadia was Managing Editor of business publications for the UK live events industry, and created FaceTime Magazine for event marketers. She’s also responsible for launching and transforming key industry events, such as the annual ARN Industry Awards and Exhibition News Awards. Nadia rejoined IDG Australia (now Foundry) in 2013 to create CMO, a dedicated title for the modern marketing chief. In 2015, CMO launched the CMO50 program, now recognised as the country’s premiere list for modern marketing excellence, supported by a highly prestigious annual event.

This is the 8th CMO50 list I have presented.

I’ve watched how the calibre of the submissions has risen, and seen nominations evolve in terms of quality, earnestness and candour.

I’ve seen people who have graced our list move on to bigger, more impactful business roles, and I’ve seen several return to the list, demonstrating their ability to help another organisation grow, innovate and succeed.

I’ve also seen companies now returning to our top 10 ranks, showing us there are some particularly special, significant CMO roles in this country giving marketing leaders of the highest aptitude the opportunity to truly shine as business contributors and leaders of growth.

I’ve seen the shift from proving worth on the basis of a campaign, or the ability to secure investment for a martech platform, to delivering impact through customer journeys, insights, voice of customer and a renewed push on brand purpose and storytelling.

This year, we read of compelling data and customer insight use cases, and about the lens placed on improving journeys for business and customer benefit. There were lots of examples where our top 50 drove cross-functional impact and influence. Several innovated product, others spurred government action.

The way CMOs have demonstrated impact in submissions is also changing – while we still get vanity metrics and creative scoring systems, there are on the whole more efforts to tie marketing to the bottom line, growth, customer-oriented improvements, marketshare and business worth.

Equally, submissions over the years have reflected maturity around team management, growing recognition of kindness, vulnerability and empathy in leadership. This has been particularly apparent over the last 3 years of the unprecedented pandemic. There were heart-warming stories of team camaraderie, plus a real push to elevate diversity and inclusion in creative as well as internally. Marketing teams, from what I read, are the happiest bunch of people in business today!

Through all of it, a big question we as judges have always asked is:

  • What is the role of the CMO?
  • How do we judge submissions fairly given the varied sets of responsibilities presented?
  • What can a CMO truly influence in a business and leadership context versus what is out of their hands?
  • How swayed are we by a good yarn?
  • And how ambitious can we be about how much scope a CMO can have in organisations today?

Of course it’s given me incredible insight into how CMOs do their jobs today and how they continue to do their jobs tomorrow.

So what do I personally think the role of the CMO needs to be?

Role of contradictions: right brain, left brand, art and science, magic and method, data and gut. I cheekily asked many of you this year to tell me what you thought the ultimate ratio of data and gut was in modern marketing today. I certainly received some intriguing answers. Some gave me percentages; others prevaricated on needing a mix but went into great depth to explain when and where data and gut comes into the process; a few took this as gut being experience and placed value on the latter; others detailed how they aspire to use a level of insight in their approach.

It just goes to show the incongruity existing in marketing today. It isn’t data or gut, science or art. It’s all of it. Sometimes these things are in opposition. Finding the balance in that tension is the CMO’s magic trick.

The CMO role is also one of clarity. Marketers are the masters of brand narrative and they need to apply this precision storytelling to their entire approach.

The CMO role is also one of compassion. It’s compassion for both teams and for customers and a drive to understand both.

Which is why the CMO role is also one of curiosity – it’s constant learning, being open to change and being a champion for transformation when and where it’s needed.

This of course means there’s no way CMOs can work in isolation, so the role is also one of collaboration and cross-functionality. It’s working across an organisation to not only deliver a brand campaign, but a brand promise.

The CMO role is also arguably one of conversation. It’s being able to encourage dialogue internally and externally, again in the name of cross-functional connection and growth. More recently, it’s been about leading the conversation on diversity and inclusion.

I’m going to add community here too as part of the CMO make-up, again as a reflection of the internal and external imperative required for marketers and brands to be successful today – and the societal demands we’re facing.

There’s some coercion in this too – in the more constructive and ethical sense of the word. CMOs do have to do lots of persuading, building trust in order to be able to take the bold, bets that drive competitive advantage, differentiation and build brand value.

Hence why the role of CMO also requires courage and conviction. There is no doubt marketers are working hard to do the things they think are important and expected of them, then working hard to justify them. This year’s submissions were choc-full of insistent figures to prove marketing’s worth, from campaign outcomes to NPS, brand health, marketshare, sales and profit growth.

But sometimes marketing has to make a choice and take a relatively blind leap of faith. That takes courage and conviction in your decisions.

And finally all this takes creativity. Marketers are consummate professionals when it comes to realising creative ideas and taking them to market through campaigns. But I mean creativity in every sense of the word – creativity is inventiveness, its curiosity, it’s the culmination of all the aspects of the CMO role I’ve just itemised.

So bringing this back to the CMO50.

Every year as judges, we talk about what we have read, what we liked and didn’t like. We reflect on moments of the year and what they tell about CMO roles and where emphasis is. We inevitably talk about what we’d like to see more of. And yes, there are plenty of “I wish I’d seen more of…”

Yes, we do still have work to do if we are going to continue to see the CMO role become as important and impactful in more organisations in a more holistic way.

We still don’t have enough marketers sitting at the executive leadership table.

Yes, marketers are threatened by the rise of next-gen roles such as chief digital officer, chief growth officer, chief customer officer.

Yes, marketing has a marketing problem.

Yes, we still have too many marketers slotted into the swim lane of marcomms and not given the opportunity to demonstrate what they can deliver if they can harness the full 4Ps.

Yes, we still have too many marketers focused on leads, not holistic outcomes.

But every year, I can also confidently say we have seen evolution, an incredible ability and real willingness by CMOs to adapt and change based on what is needed in business and leadership.

Capitalising on the moment and making choices then sticking to delivering off the back of them is something our judges really value. And you will have seen that in the last few years in our top 10 CMO50 ranks. It’s something I’m partial to myself – I love a story of battle, of building through hard work and a slog.

We have marketers who have earned top 10 spots this year and in our alumni for doing this. They’re not driving a new brand visual or campaign because they think it’s expected of them or they need a proof point for their existence, they’re doing it because it’s needed. They’re making the tough choices and advocating for their brands, teams and businesses through those moments that matter and with a narrative that is brave and bold.

And the very best are embracing data and gut, method and magic, science and art.


Tags: chief marketing officer, CMO role, marketing leadership, CMO50 2022

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