Not dead yet: the role of the CMO is expanding, not disappearing

Over the past decade, nearly every industry has been digitally disrupted. They’ve been disrupted by new technologies, new sources and applications of data and, most of all, new consumer behaviors.

Within nearly every organization, the marketing department has been ground zero for this disruption — the place where its first and severest effects have been felt.

As a result, the marketing organization has stretched into many new areas and contracted from others. Meanwhile, the marketer’s role has evolved and increased in complexity: We are still marketers and strategists, both creative and scientific, but now we are also technologists, data scientists, and revenue managers.

These drastic shifts in responsibility have caused some industry pundits to posit that the role of the chief marketing officer is going extinct. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the myriad new C-suite titles that have emerged — chief growth officers, chief digital officers, chief data officers, and more — the role of the chief marketing officer is alive and well. And it is expanding significantly.

The organizational transformation required by companies today carries with it a number of new responsibilities, and it is the chief marketing officer role that is absorbing the lion’s share of these duties, from data science to revenue management. There’s good reason for that, given both the historical experiences of chief marketing officers, as well as the sea change facing businesses today.

The transition veterans

Modern chief marketing officers have gone through the first war already. They have fought to transition their organizations from ones steeped in traditional media and traditional tactics to digital-first organizations equipped for a digital world. No doubt, this war still has a few battles left, with the expansion of social influence, shifts from linear to connected TV, and the emergence of direct-to-consumer models still ongoing. But, in general, the wounds from this clash are healing to scars, and today’s chief marketing officers are stronger and wiser for having been a part of this intense stage of business evolution.

The experience that chief marketing officers gained in transitioning their traditional businesses for the digital world must now be called on to transition again for today’s data-first world. New models are being implemented. Departments are reorganizing. Employees are being re-educated. And chief marketing officers will draw on the lessons from past successes (and failures) when it comes to streamlining and achieving executive buy-in during these processes. And, as with the digital-first transition, their efforts will affect departments well beyond marketing.

The impending shift to data-first is no less monumental than the shift to digital-first. It is, in fact, more wide-reaching and fraught with even more logistical and regulatory hurdles. Fortunately, chief marketing officers grew up in a data-driven world. They understand what’s at stake when it comes to infusing the broader organization with data-driven insights, as they’ve seen the powerful influence that the right consumer intelligence has brought to their own efforts. Above all, it is chief marketing officers’ fluency in applying consumer insights to business challenges that has put them squarely at the center of today’s much-needed and far-reaching organizational transformations.

Expanding customer-centricity beyond marketing

Customer centricity is not a new concept for marketers, but in many cases, it’s a mindset shift for the broader enterprise. In fact, the ability of a company to take a unique view of the consumer and build (or rebuild) its business model around that view is the core driver of ongoing disruption across industries. Look no further than Amazon, which has prided itself on its customer-centric mindset since Day 1. It’s the same story with Uber and Lyft, Casper and Leesa, Warby Parker and Stitch Fix, and any number of other challenger brands. Although the technology, app, or device often gets the credit for the power, the technology simply fluidly enables the customer-centered strategy. These companies’ success is built on a fundamentally unique understanding of what customers value and why they choose certain brands and experiences over others — and an organization-wide commitment to aligning the business to those insights.

In becoming data-driven (and, more important, insight-driven), companies are actually becoming customer-driven, or even customer-obsessed. This is the pivot required to stay relevant in an age of disruption, and the deep consumer insights required to drive these transformations are arising from within the marketing organization. Going forward, chief marketing officers will be called on not only to use these insights to break down silos within their own department, but also to bridge silos across the broader organization.

Tomorrow’s companies will not look the same as they do today, just as today’s marketing departments don’t look the same as they did a decade ago. It’s time for chief marketing officers to step up within the C-suite. As the linchpins needed to disperse deeper consumer understanding and orientation across the entirety of the organization, chief marketing officers must capitalize on the experience and knowledge they have gained over the past 10 years. That insight will be what enables their companies to survive and thrive over the next 10 years.

Ericka Podesta McCoy is chief marketing officer of Resonate

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