Why it's time to rethink the role of the chief marketing officer

is it time to rethink the role of the CMO?

Imagine you’re trying to buy a new car.

You’ve heard from colleagues and friends about a model that seems to suit your lifestyle. Its reliable, well-known and in the sweet spot of your budget. You download an app to customise the car you want and spend a while doing this, but you have questions it doesn’t answer, and you want to speak to someone. After navigating the myriad virtual phone assistant prompts, you finally get through to a person and discover they have no way of viewing the custom build you have painstakingly made in the app.

This is before you’ve even got to the purchasing stage. The whole experience feels a bit, well, broken.

If this sounds familiar and frustrating to you, whether you’re buying a car, completing a purchase or using a digital service, you can be sure this is what most consumers are experiencing. Businesses rely heavily on technology to deliver contextual, relevant, and personalised experiences, but these are falling short of being useful.

Back to our car purchasing analogy. 50 years ago, you would go to a dealership, customise your vehicle, ask a salesperson questions and eventually drive away with your new vehicle. My argument is this – if all we’ve managed to do in 50 years is change the experience but not get to the outcome faster or more easily, do we really have control of the technology we’re using to do this? And who’s responsible for making it work?

Does the CMO’s role really need to change?

CMOs are often seen as the ‘glue’ between different lines of business. They are excellent communicators, methodical and get things done. This offers a great advantage for identifying new opportunities for sales and revenue streams and linking those to the core business. Using those ‘sticky’ skills to make the customer experience more natural across different products. If you are the CMO of a pet food brand, for example, you’ll want to move beyond solely engaging with dog food suppliers to include vets and dog walkers. Find new opportunities in diverse but relevant audiences and communities that connect through an experience. And construct an easily understood marketing-communications mandate that protects the customer but has a clear link to rest of the business.

Know your strengths

The CMO’s role transcends all business silos in this tech-driven future – from talent acquisition and retention, through product to technology and data. That’s before they think about their traditional function. To deliver world-class experiences unparalleled collaboration is needed across the organisation and the CMO is perfectly positioned to orchestrate this: 90% of organisations view the CMO as the connective tissue between different lines of business. For the CMO to take back control they need to start doing these five things, and they’re going to change the role:

First, get the ear of the CEO

The board knows that marketing is relevant, but the CMO might not be speaking their language. As AA marketing director Cheryl Calverley has said, “few boards want to see the ‘working-out’ of the detail in a tech or data marketing strategy”. She adds, “The key thing is to ensure the board has confidence in your consumer insight and overall communication strategy.” Provide a clear pathway from the technology to the customer experience, in a way the CEO and board will understand. Qualitative and quantitative research that shows where the experience breaks down and where the silos are will help CMOs communicate their strategy and solution.

Second, break the silos

By encouraging teams to work across the company, in different departments and locations CMOs can free themselves and the organisation from silos. Add to this cross-functional teams and a culture that fosters collaboration across the lines of business. This extends to partners and agencies too. Food and drink manufacturer J.M. Smucker is one company doing this. The company’s senior vice president of growth and consumer engagement, Geoff Tanner, has restructured the marketing organisation from isolated divisions to a centralised model that gives teams responsible for brands more decision-making power. Its asked the same of its agency partner, with talent coming from across the holding group rather than one business. Marketing should be the model of collaboration, demonstrating how every function plays its part in the overall customer experience.

Third, regain control of the tech marketing

Leaders are aware that traditional experiences, like those customers had 50 years ago no longer satisfy. And yet only 22% of executives responsible for their organisation’s customer experience strategy say they can meet their customers’ expectations. And it’s not surprising really, when 50% of marketing technology purchasing decisions used to manage those experiences are happening outside of the marketing department.

Not having total control over marketing tools means there’s a gap in the experience that organisations are promising, and the one customers are getting. This affects customer service, delivery and interactions across multiple touchpoints. With such a reliance and investment in technology platforms for automation of services and data-driven communications, there is a lot riding on technology that works. The CMO should be key to ensuring marketing has the decision-making power and the right partners to deliver an effective marketing technology strategy.

Fourth, interrogate the data

Nearly 40% of organisations are challenged by a lack of customer insights. The level of insight required to deliver world-class experiences is largely driven by what you’re measuring. Disney UK and Ireland CMO Anna Hill says, “We listen to consumers and what they are buying, but also what they are talking about and we watch trends closely.” By the same token, if a CMO’s organisation don’t have technology that’s up to scratch, it means too much data that’s not useful. Marketing leaders need more control over marketing technology in the years to come.

Fifth, make the right connections

The amount of money going into marketing technology and services piques the interest of the CIO. CMOs must either be part of a group of decision makers or be able to make marketing technology purchasing decisions themselves. Firms with tech-savvy marketing leaders will accomplish the ideal: joint ownership of marketing technology decisions. How else can the CMO fully understand the implications of adopting enterprise-wide tools that affect multiple channels, business units, and ultimately the customer experience?

Senior marketers should align their technology decisions with the customers’ needs. Impart what’s required for excellent customer experiences to CIO counterparts to design a technology strategy that’s right for customers and the company – and use customer insights to back this up. Start by carefully selecting a marketing technology stack that not only delivers campaigns with targeted and contextual communications, but orchestrates, facilitates and measures meaningful collaborations and connected insights throughout the business.

The opportunity to create emotive and powerful experiences for customers is within reach. But only if the CMO can inspire customer-centric thinking that resonates with a positive brand experience across all lines of business. How? By aligning the organisation, creating a customer-obsessed culture, and building a technology suite that enables and encourages innovation and real-time change.

Fundamentally the CMO role has got to change, but the good news is they’ve already got the skills for the job.

Joy Bhattacharya is managing director, UK & Ireland of Accenture Interactive

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