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What does it meant to be a CMO in 2017?

Dec 5, 2017
What does it meant to be a CMO in 2017?

For as long as marketing has continued to become integrated into organisations and in-house teams have grown in size and scope, Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) have been appointed to head these teams. Well-versed in marketing, often from both an agency and internal perspective, these CMOs have been the driving force of growth and evolution in marketing for many years.

Yet more recently the authority and dominance of CMOs has come to be questioned, as marketing itself evolves and siloed teams are giving way to more integrated, interdisciplinary forms of organisation. This week we’re looking at the role of CMO in 2017 and what this could mean for future manifestations of the position.

The role of CMO 

So what does the traditional role of CMO entail? According to Business Dictionary, a CMO is ‘the company executive responsible for corporate branding, advertising, marketing channels, customer outreach and all other marketing aspects.’ Forming part of the upper echelons of management, CMOs often work across all product or service lines and geographic regions to coordinate activities, strategies and targets. 

SearchCIO, an online resource focused on management, technology and IT news, goes further by suggesting that

'CMOs’ primary mission is to facilitate growth and increase sales by developing a comprehensive plan that will promote brand recognition and help the organization gain a competitive advantage.'  

Noting that this aim requires strong leadership skills, a close insight into the needs and motivations of customers and often a background in IT, SearchCIO’s definition indicates the increasingly diverse demands upon CMOs in the digital age.

An evolving role 

Like many industries and roles undergoing change as a result of diverging technological and consumer demands, the position of CMO is undergoing a period of evolution that is only alluded to at a surface level by SearchCIO’s definition.

Exploring this notion of evolution in more depth, a McKinsey&Co article from this summer expressed the belief that while ‘many chief marketers still have narrowly defined roles that emphasize advertising, brand management, and market research,’ they will have to ‘spread their wings’ if they are going to thrive in 2017 and beyond.

McKinsey suggests that a major requirement for CMOs to deal with the pace of change is a broadening of their role. It is envisaged that ‘this expansion will encompass both a redefinition of the way the marketing function performs its critical tasks and the CMO’s assumption of a larger role as the “voice of the customer” across the company as it responds to significant changes in the marketplace.’ Some of these significant changes involve the way consumers research and buy products, user-generated content, influencer media and the globalisation of the consumer base, all of which demonstrate the need to think outside the box rather than focusing on narrow definitions of what it means to “do marketing”.

The modern day CMO 

While this re-evaluation of what it means to be a CMO will take time and require a change of psychology in organisational culture, there a number of smaller, practical steps that can be taken to affect change.

One such step is to bring people to the CMO role from a range of professional backgrounds. Although conventional wisdom would suggest that working your way through the marketing food chain would make you the most qualified for the job, in actual fact attracting talent from across multiple sectors and specialities is a concrete way of bringing fresh perspectives and wider capabilities to the role.  

This approach was suggested by a recent article from Marketing Week, pointing to LinkedIn’s CMO Shannon Stubo who spent 20 years in corporate communications and PR before moving in to marketing proper. Arguing that roles are increasingly converging and creating overlaps between previously independent functions, Stubo sees this trend emerging across multiple industries under pressure to change.

While some like Forbes contributor Bob Evans have hailed the death of the CMO role and argued that new titles such as Chief Engagement Officer would be more appropriate, many still believe there is a place for CMOs, albeit an evolved one. Like all good institutions, recognising the scope for change and development is essential if organisations are to respond in relevant ways to the challenges facing modern marketing. Rather than starting from scratch and throwing out conventional roles and received wisdoms, finding avenues on which to build can provide a robust way to future-proof the role of the CMO.


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