Forrester: Brands to be free from marketing exclusivity as CMO title fades

The CMO role has been evolving, with responsibilities extending beyond traditional marketing to include analytics, technology, and growth. Over the past year, the industry has witnessed high-profile CMO roles being eliminated, including those at Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, and Netflix. As such, the remaining CMOs must now demonstrate the value of still having a chief marketer at a time when the need for one is becoming less obvious.

Forrester predicts in its latest “Predictions 2020: CMO” report that brands will be officially freed from the exclusivity of marketing. According to Forrester, eliminating the CMO position sets the brand free from the confines of marketing, reuniting it with the business.

Forrester added: “Although it won’t be as intuitive for established firms, this spirit will pervade 2020, forcing companies to be uniquely intelligent, brutally honest, and fanatically fair — something that will require customer experience and employee experience, as well as marketing, to deliver.”

Mars, for example, was forced to think different from a marketing and recruitment perspective when it replaced the CMO position with a chief growth officer (CGO). Berta de Pablos, who took on the CGO role in January this year, said that the company is now using the brand as a tool for growth.

Marketing speaks to industry players to find out what they think about the evolving role of the CMO as a brand guardian, and their impact on the brand.

Mohamed Adam Wee, group CMO, CIMB Group 

The context needs to be set right. The CMO’s job is never just to represent the brand. In any typical organisation, the entire customer value chain needs to be considered and managed from the moment the brand engages the audience to generate demand, to the fulfilment stage where the audience becomes a customer, right through the entire customer life-cycle with the brand. The CMO function typically has oversight over the marketing 7Ps – product, price, place, promotion, people, process, and presence.

Brand sits above all to help the organisation differentiate itself, and to help the customers make choices and to drive the culture of the organisation.

Brand management in a large organisation can cover a wide span of responsibilities. From developing the right governance, process and operational framework, to ensuring that the equity of the brand is protected and strengthened.

In the case of CIMB, the brand is valued at more than US$2 billion according to Brand Finance 2019 valuation. All related IP, including establishing brand nomenclature for its products and services and ensuring that trademarks are being managed across all its operating entities and markets, are critical. This role could typically reside in a chief brand officer or a head of brand under the CMO’s or CEO’s office.

A pertinent component in defining the scope of the role is dependent on the scope of business, size and geographical coverage of the organisation. Whether it’s a business that operates upstream or downstream, production oriented or retail services, will have a bearing on the scope of the role and what title the organisation would decide to use. If the organisation is small like a start-up or even a large SME, the role of the person responsible for customers and driving the business will be all-encompassing.

In a larger organisation operating multi-business sector and geographies, the business growth function will typically be divided to distinct areas of responsibility to ensure that the marketing functions and responsibilities are institutionalised. For example, a chief growth officer could be defined to focus on growth pivots whilst other marketing functions can focus on strategic thrust to protect the franchise in the longer term.

Ultimately, the most important point of all is whether the holder of the title understands his/her job scope, and whether the title is clear enough to any party who may be working with or collaborating with the person.

Jean Ler, CMO, Pizza Hut Malaysia

It’s common that most people think that brand building job ONLY belongs to the marketing department and ONLY the CMO is responsible for it. This perception persists mainly due to lack of true understanding about what the marketing function is and what a brand is about.

It is commonly thought that a brand is a label or a name that we put on a product or service.

Therefore, the marketing function only handles advertising and promotion in order to create awareness of the brand, and to run some promotions to sell the product or service.

A truly customer oriented organisation has every function in the company “think customer” as the starting point of every initiative or project, or task, regardless if it is directly or indirectly linked to what’s benefiting customers. This is because brand is the business, the culture, and is all about customers.

If this is clear to every level in an organisation, it is clear that the marketing job is to drive profitably growing business by creating value, demand and brand love from customers. However, when this is not always clear, it is beneficial to have a job role as chief customer officer to push the focus on customer, and chief growth officer to drive business growth in profitably sustainable manner.

Then, my question is, who is overseeing the overarching brand strategy that ties the customers and business growth and profit together, and providing the direction where the brand is moving towards? Isn’t this the job of CMO if the scope of marketing is understood correctly? While the customers are evolving, business has to evolve, so does the job scope and role of CMO. It is constantly evolving and expanding to cover the breadth and depth of all mentioned above.

Alvin Neo, chief customer and marketing officer, NTUC Enterprise and FairPrice Group

Alvin Neo

I believe the traditional definition of the CMO role is clearly out-dated. The modern day CMO going forward is the leader and driver of the organisation’s customer-centricity spanning insights, research, analytics, strategy to customer experience, loyalty/advocacy, partnership, omni-channel and omni-vertical efforts. The conventional definition of what marketing does is but a sub-set of this. They carry hard financial targets not just marketing or share metrics; and work extremely closely with the chief information officer, chief experience officer and operations heads.

The ability to strategise and partner to build and/or lead ecosystems surrounding and serving the customer is important for CMOs.

Data and customer relationships are the key currency, technology is a key enabler, and the CMO has to get really good at managing and leveraging these.

Jean Thomas, CMO, Pomelo

Start-ups always start with a customer-first approach, that’s why the CMO position is unlikely to change for us. For large brands, they sometimes lose touch with customers and are getting disrupted by new up and coming companies so it makes sense for them to have a chief customer officer to take charge of the marketing and put back the customer at the core of the organisation.

Firstly, data is the core of our industry today so the CMO role is becoming more and more technical.

The consequences are that for non-data driven CMO it will become very complicated to bring value to their organisation and it will rapidly make these brands irrelevant to their customers.

CMO roles are also becoming more commercial, you absolutely need to have a strong commercial understanding in order to really have an edge over the competition.

Eunice Yap, chief marketing officer, The Esplanade

I believe that any role in an organisation today is fluid and always evolving. The job description is a mere framework of the role and responsibility but pray tell me, who uses that as a reference to meticulously parallel that with what we have to do every day at work?

With technology colliding with digital and transformation, I personally feel that the CMOs should take the opportunity to redefine their role and relevance in the organisation.

According to the American marketing guru Philip Kotler, marketing is defined as “the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit. Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires. It defines, measures and quantifies the size of the identified market and the profit potential. It pinpoints which segments the company is capable of serving best and it designs and promotes the appropriate products and services.”

That’s a mouthful and yet, still relevant today. So with that, I will sum up the CMO’s role as the chief strategist and architect for an organisation to meet/exceed customers’ needs/wants. What would that encompass? Having in-depth understanding and mastery of customer life cycle, customer experience, brand management, marketing planning, segmentation, analytics and many others. If we don’t understand our customers, how can we possibly market to them? How can these not be inter-twined and inter-dependent when the touchpoints of a consumer are so dynamic and fluid?

Even if AI sets in for analytics and ease the mundane marketing operations tasks, the dynamics of dealing with unpredictable purchase behaviours still warrant a CMO to adapt and respond and lead the teams to manoeuvre through this complication.

I definitely think the CMO role has evolved and so has the teams. Many have built and broadened their digital knowledge and strengthened their capabilities. Organisations have also acknowledged and embraced digital, and the performing arts cluster has definitely recognised how technology can play a critical and catalytic role to help reach out to new audiences.

As marketing executives, we must always remain disciplined and true to our principles. Is brand relevant today? Of course it is but brand loyalty may have a different definition as most of what we do can be measurable through brand sentiment and voice of customer. I think CMOs should have ownership of the entire customer journey and the ability to influence the various touchpoints depending on the segment and occasion. This is a necessary feedback loop to help inform how effective the marketing strategy is.

Branding involves internal and external branding, and the former is co-owned by CEO/HR/Marketing to help internalise the culture and values – – everyone must be able to live, breathe and own the brand.

Danny Chin, CMO, Carsome

In my personal opinion, the job of a true CMO is never primarily concentrated on only guarding the brand even from the beginning of time. The brand pillar is but one portion of a larger portfolio of the CMO, which is to support and drive the company forward, especially in a fast growing business such as Carsome. Instead of being siloed on just managing the brand, the role of a CMO should include sales, customer service, operations, product development and business development to achieve business growth.

From the first day of my appointment as CMO, my role has already included growing the brand, improving customer’s satisfaction and delivering business’ goals. It has given me the opportunity to wear different hats which directly impacts various key decisions in the business’ aspects.