Why it's tough for digital folks to become CMOs

In a recent panel held by Adobe, a point raised was that not enough digital folks make it to the CMO level.

“There aren’t many people above senior manager or director level in digital - those jobs don’t exist,” said Damien Cummings, chief marketing officer at Philips ASEAN & Pacific who was on the panel.

Most digital experts, explained Cummings, get burnt out working such long hours in a day and move on. While the hope is that these experts would take on the role of marketers or CMOs, this is rarely the case, he said.

“You can name less than ten digital people who become digital CMOs – what does it tell you? It tells you there is a problem and CMOs don’t understand digital is,” said Cummings.

Does the industry really care about digital?

Marketingasked several other marketers what their thoughts were on the matter.

One senior digital marketer who spoke on the basis of anonymity was in agreement to Cummings’ views. “The question remains as to whether this is due to companies or recruiters not believing in digital minds,” she said.

She added that today despite digital being a must in almost all marketing strategies, most CMOs only think of digital as the last line in their budget planning. The mindset (and skill set) of CMOs need to be updated and overhauled to put users first - especially since consumers today usually start their brand engagement and purchase journeys through digital media.

However the fault shouldn’t just be put on the companies and recruiters.

There are times that the digital experts themselves might not actually want the CMO role. “The ability to measure is something offline marketing rarely offers and can be frustrating to digitally minded people,” she suggested.

Rod Strother, director, digital & social centre of Excellence at Lenovo said that there are some truths to digital folks rarely taking on the CMO role, but felt that they had a good shot at it yet.

If one is to make it to the role of CMO, expertise in fields such as digital and social are vital, he said. But whether or not a digital marketer makes it to the role of CMO is dependent on the company he or she is working for. Forward thinking brands and companies such as Nestle or P&G would definitely see value in hiring a “digital first” minded CMO, he suggested. He is also confident those from a digital background stand a higher chance of nabbing the top notch positions in a company. “Nonetheless all rounded experiences across retail, sales and traditional advertising is still just as vital,” said Strother.

Ultimately, this makes it a vicious cycle.

Wayne Arnold, co-founder and global CEO at Lowe Profero said that problems arise when digital marketing is not the main channel to market as measured by advertising investment. “Unfortunately this still applies to most APAC markets,” said Arnold.

But because digital natives still haven’t gotten their hands on the marketing steering wheel, the direction is still being driven by traditionally focused CMOs. This is ultimately resulting in marketing spend remaining over proportioned to traditional channels like TV and print.

“This is a crime as in almost every case their customers are or are rapidly becoming digital first consumers. In effect, any CMO without a defined digital first strategy is not spending their shareholders money wisely or as effectively as they should,” said Arnold.