Marketing Brand Strategy CMO

Here’s what the ‘real-time’ chief marketing officer will need to look like in the future

By Christopher Brewer |

May 20, 2022 | 7 min read

Consultants and businesses have been talking about the ‘future‘ or ‘modern‘ chief marketing officer for decades. Christopher Brewer, managing director for Asia Pacific at Ogilvy Consulting, writes about what the future chief marketing officer would need to be doing now to remain in the seat.

The future: from CMO to the real-time CMO

For chief marketing officers the future is not always as planned

Looking back to conversations from 2019 with chief marketing officers and business leaders, the prevailing priority was adapting to the fast-changing world of marketing, from accelerated technology to disruptive competition, and increasingly elusive customers.

It was clear then that the role and impact of brand, customer engagement, customer experience, partnerships and more were becoming primary drivers of a company’s business growth, resting squarely with chief marketing officers.

At that time, the future for many was about a reasoned path forward at a reasonable pace to evolve maturity around capabilities, people and platforms. It was about riding the wave safely to shore.

Realities of a changing landscape

From January 2020, a reasoned path and pace became unrealistic for businesses as they switched to several modes; survival, sustaining and building resilience, with some surging ahead to find new growth, innovatively taking advantage of the situation.

Today, many of us feel we didn’t quite ride the wave as much as we were pummeled by many waves, a confluence of unprecedented events conspiring with a pandemic creating the most challenging business environment in recent memory. Our view of the future is very different today – looking back now, many businesses were woefully unprepared for the waves of disruption and change.

We might want to feel a little bit sorry for chief marketing officers and offer an encouraging hug next time we meet one. It’s no longer hyperbole to say accountability, risks, complexity and choices are only going to increase.

The future would be about making businesses ready for growth

The mandate for the chief marketing officer remains – growth.

Businesses, old and new, are changing sentiment from ‘what is the risk of doing this’ to ‘what is the risk of not doing this.’ Many are understanding that ‘the future’ is not an annual planning exercise, and even the best-laid plans are often not future-ready in times of upheaval.

The MIT Centre for Information Systems Research defines future-ready as being both innovative and low-cost (operationally efficient), delivering leading customer experiences, being modular and agile, using data as a strategic asset and being what they call ‘ecosystems ready.’

Future-ready businesses not only create value, but they fully capture it from customers and from within their business through ecosystems they orchestrate.

With a growth mandate and ‘future-ready’ as the destination, an opportunity presents itself for current and future chief marketing officers to succeed under a whole new set of rules.

The advent of the real-time chief marketing officer

There is no question that chief marketing officers will need new skills and tools to be successful – and no chief marketing officer is going to be a master of everything. While being practitioners, successful chief marketing officers will need to be master collaborators and networkers.

The real-time chief marketing officer must be results-driven, innovative and agile, knowing how and when to bring in expertise to realize their journey to future-ready.

A GPS for the real-time chief marketing officer

For chief marketing officers to set the pace, they need to know where the business is and where they are headed, and have an adaptable evidence-based journey for how to get there. David Wheldon, ex-chief marketing officer at RBS, said: “Don’t be the dog that barks at every passing car.” It is about more than adapting to a cool new channel, delivering more data-driven communications or launching an edgy influencer campaign.

Besides known forces that drive rapid behavioral changes, shifting wealth and generations, chief marketing officers must transform toward future-ready while keeping an eye on – and being future-ready – for the potential waves that are still to come.

Transformation is ultimately about changing behaviors, it’s about your people, and it will live or die by them. As famously said, culture (still) eats strategy for lunch.

Finally, a framework is just that – a framework. While it’s helpful to have a framework, every future-ready transformation will need to be benchmarked and built for your unique organization, as it is today.

Some dos of a real-time chief marketing officer

  1. Understand current state maturity: Where are you right now? Take stock of where you are v the category/domain

  2. Size the prize, set and re-evaluate the vision: Establish what is at stake, and align the business around a clear vision and ambition

  3. Identify imperatives: Understand the key attributes that make up the imperatives, be this around customer experience or capabilities (please watch this space for our upcoming future-readiness framework)

  4. Understand maturity gaps: Go granular with the specific workstreams and tasks that close the gaps to move you toward a future-ready destination

  5. Chart an evidence-based roadmap: Define a clear evidence-based roadmap that charts a path for all stakeholders to follow, but one that can be revisited based on changing market and consumer landscapes

  6. Manage the growth: Build a ‘Growth Management Office’ that measures growth, manages the change and ensures transformation and innovation truly become real-world

With marketing (in a redefined sense) as a primary growth driver, its role is far bigger than a ‘function.’ Real-time chief marketing officers rely on their ability to connect, network, collaborate and innovate (along with a healthy dose of bravery and courage). Deep expertise is critical, but this is the ‘X-Factor’ for future success.

Christopher Brewer is the managing director – Asia Pacific at Ogilvy Consulting and is based in Hong Kong.

Marketing Brand Strategy CMO

More from Marketing

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +