The changing CMO title: Will we see the role (as we know it) being wiped out soon?

The chief marketing officer (CMO) function has shaken up quite a bit in recent years, which several companies such as Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) removing the role altogether. Two years ago, Coca-Cola merged its global chief marketing officer function with “customer and commercial leadership as well as strategy” to create a new chief growth officer (CGO) role. Not long after, J&J also dropped its CMO function after the departure of global CMO Allison Lewi.

This comes as CMOs will feel a stronger need to understand consumers using data as marketing technology budgets set to increase by “double digits”, said a report by Forrester. No doubt, it is now much tougher for CMOs to justify digital advertising, prompting many CMOs’ role to encompass sales-centric KPIs, leading to the rise of the chief growth officer roles.

However, speaking to Marketing, Deloitte global CMO Diana O’Brien said she does not think the CMO role will die off and the change of titles is a sign that the role is simply being transformed. She explained:

In the past, CMOs weren’t as prepared to be at the executive decision-making table, or they weren’t even invited in. Now, they are.

According to her, this is a good change as they are now able to operate as one with the executive C-suite and drive meaningful impact by bringing the voice of the customer into the business. However, O’Brien said: “It isn’t enough to just be good at your discipline of marketing or your discipline of finance, for example. The C-suite individuals now have to understand how they can work together. We call it the ‘symphonic c-suite’.”

Addition on, she added that while the evolution of role is likely not a temporary phenomenon, CMOs are still very much needed. “I think the CMO role is still there, even in companies that have called it something else,” she said.

Meanwhile, HappyFresh chief growth officer Johan Antlov said the expectations of CMOs have also evolved. Today the role has gone way beyond driving marketing activities and marketers are increasingly tasked to show clear impact on the profit and loss as incremental growth. He said:

More often than not, marketing is only one component of growth, alongside sales, commercials, and product.

“To optimise towards growth is to mobilise all relevant departments, breaking down traditional barriers, and getting the company behind the same growth metrics. The underlying approach is a data-driven methodology,” added Antlov.

Behind this trend, according to him, is the rise of digital companies funded by venture capital that has spearheaded the expectations for rapid growth. With funding, companies aim to gain fast market share and achieve this in a short time frame.

“To achieve this, companies are structuring themselves to align customer-focused departments behind the same goals, overseen by a CGO. In the future, you will see the walls behind traditional functions collapse as cross-departmental teams are built that focus solely on moving growth metrics,” he said. As the traditional way of marketing loses ground to emerging technologies that are changing the way consumers make decisions, Antlov said:

Today’s CMOs need to be able to adapt to this environment, where consumer preference may not be driven by advertising means.

As such, CMOs are required to tailor strategies that cover the “full spectrum of the customer interaction” with the brand. One way for CMOs to embrace their new scope of work is to consider the speed that they want to operate at and identify the teams that are needed. This may mean bringing in a marketer, an engineer and a data scientist into a single team to achieve broader impact with cross-departmental expertise, he said.

Silas Lewis-Meilus, director, head of media APAC at GSK said at a recent panel discussion by Xaxis, attended by Marketing that an “omni-channel” marketing leader, no matter how the role named, is vital.

With growing fragmentation and innovation in the industry, he said that marketers cannot afford to live in a silo environment where they do not have a “sense of everything”. As the role evolves, he said there is even a possibility that “the best CMO in the future is not a marketing person, but simply one who has the ability to manage a team of experts effectively”. He added:

The assumption that you can be a pure creative CMO is a short-term solution.

However, Lewis-Meilus said it is natural for CMOs to have “comfort zones”, be it in creative or media. “It’s human nature to have that component of speciality. But fighting against that and delivering in the space you are potentially not comfortable and driving the business in those spaces, is where you will start to see a real uplift,” he said.

Adding on, Fonterra global’s out-going CMO Anindya Dasgupta said CMOs are required to be “extremely analytical while being highly creative”. This comes as they are increasingly tasked to deliver an integrated business solution rather than a marketing campaign.

“You need to understand numbers. A CMO of the future must have experience naturally from selling, should understand how retail works, have some amount of sales experience. Event and supply chain is also pretty critical to some extent,” he added.

With the right person, Dasgupta said a CMO can become the CEO’s right hand, owning their own agenda as well as profit and loss. He explained that CMOs of the future not only look after brand-building but also at the execution side of the business. He added

The job is becoming a lot more of an actual delivering results rather than just a blue sky marketing campaign.

Whether the position is called CMO or CGO, according to R3 founder Shufen Goh, the role has to have a “direct accountability” to business and sales, from top of the funnel to bottom. She explained: “This means that the CMO should have influence over product design, pricing, distribution. With data being the fuel that can create the seamless and personalised customer experience, the CMO needs to be a creative engineer.”

Adding on, she advised CMOs to surround themselves with a new ecosystem of partners and learn a new language to “effectively orchestrate and integrate” technology and creativity.