The future of the CMO: Why the top marketer's remit needs to evolve

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A few forward-thinking companies are widening the chief marketing officer remit

A few forward-thinking companies are widening the chief marketing officer remit to encompass areas such as HR (recognising the brand value of good customer service) or IT (noting the value of digital co-creation). However, according to a recent study in Harvard Business Review, chief marketing officers are responsible for strategic innovation in less than a third of all large companies.

More often that not, innovation and marketing are kept at arm’s length - especially so when innovation units are kept in corporate quarantine in secretive ‘skunk works’ or ‘labs’

This creates a big problem. Innovators lose the support and expertise of their colleagues in the core business, while dispirited marketeers and their agencies may find themselves trying to sell products they know in their hearts aren’t quite good enough.

Yet both innovation and marketing share common ground. Both want to offer customers what they truly need. Separation makes no sense.

No doubt of course, it’s sometimes possible to grow without needing to innovate. Lucozade did this beautifully in the 90s when it switched its positioning from being a drink you bought when you felt sick to being a drink you bought when you wanted to exercise. You can go a long way with positioning alone.

But when faced with a truly disruptive challenge, marketing will always hit a wall.

Take Blockbuster Video. In 2004, it had revenues of $6bn and had confidently rejected a tiny $50m deal to buy Netflix. A decade later, staff at the last remaining outpost in Hawaii rented their last video, ironically, a comedy called ‘This is the End’. By the time the customer had finished watching, there was no store, and no company left to return it to. It wasn’t that Blockbuster’s marketing team were simpletons or slouches. It had invested millions in clever, creative campaigns. It just couldn’t market its way out of a predicament that required an innovative solution. It would have done better to have invested less in ads and more in adapting its core offering.

A better role model might be the US bank Capital One. Recognising the threat posed by fintech to bricks and mortar banking, it is re-framing the customer experience around a range of in branch financial education workshops and 1-2-1 money coaching services. The logic is that a good bank doesn’t just hold our money safely but helps us understand how to live well psychologically around it. It understands that without innovating around the core nature of what they offer to customers, marketing won’t get it far enough, no matter how big the budget.

Whether this activity is classed as innovation or marketing is moot. The point is, it’s likely to drive growth by making customers feel more attached to the brand in a much deeper sense.

According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 90% of chief marketing officers believe that they’ll own the end-to-end customer experience by 2020. That would presumably comprise much of what’s currently managed by their peers in strategy, HR and IT - as well, of course, as innovation.

Some companies are already experimenting with a version of this role in the form of a chief customer officer or chief growth officer. Whatever the name though, if the chief marketing officer role is not to remain the Cinderella of the leadership functions (with the fastest turnover rate of any other leadership position) it will need to evolve into something of a renaissance role. One where the core area of concern will shift from overseeing the development of attractive communications - to overseeing the development of attractive companies.

Ewen Haldane is business director at The School of Life

Ewen Haldane

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