The CMO Role Isn’t Dead … Yet

The CMO Role Isn’t Dead … Yet

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There is no shortage of industry talk and musings around the chief marketing officer role and its rumoured imminent death. Tenures are shorter than ever and with consumer demands and expectations at an all-time high, it’s no wonder why we’re seeing a rising CMO turnover.

New CMOs face the constant pressure of delivering standout results for brands, and fast. And, when they unsurprisingly don’t deliver, it’s often out with the new and in with the even newer.

Furthermore, several big-name companies across the globe have done away with the CMO position altogether–including Johnson& Johnson, Uber, Lyft, Hyatt Hotels and more. But should CMOs be worried? Does industry talk around the death of the CMO role hold any gravitas? Or is it simply a matter of changing times and therefore a changing job remit? What do we know that’s true about the future of the CMO role and what, for lack of a better word, is total bogus?

True: tenures are getting shorter

According to this year’s State Of Tthe CMO report, the average CMO tenure in 2019 was two years and five months, a clear drop from the two years 10 months recorded in 2018, and two years 11 months in 2017. Looking at the overall picture of the marketing landscape, eight in ten marketers have held their position for less than three years.

One of the main reasons behind this declining tenure is the executive influence and increased pressures of a shifting CMO remit. More than half of CMOs surveyed feel board and CEO pressure on their position has increased in the last 12 months (52 per cent). When breaking down those reporting directly to the CEO, this pressure increased to 54 per cent.

The ABC’s head of marketing Jocelin Abbey agrees that tenures are on the decline due to the shift in CMO expectations and remit area.

She says, “Where a CMO may have been responsible for delivering marketing and communication activities, nowadays a CMO’s remit stretches across building brand, driving growth, leading digital transformation, navigating customer expectations, while managing smaller media budgets. It’s a challenging environment that can lead to a lot of pressure to deliver, and quickly.”

Another hurdle modern CMOs are facing, which could be contributing to the decline in tenure length, is the struggle to prove value and effectiveness. The report showed six in ten marketing leaders said they can prove marketing’s ROI impact quantitatively, while 32 per cent reported a good qualitative sense of marketing’s ROI impact but lacked quantitative results.

False: the CMO remit hasn’t changed

One of the biggest catalysts for the CMO role becoming increasingly shorter is the changing nature of the role. In the era of digital transformation, CMOs have had to upskill, reskill and effectively change the way they conduct their role. That, coupled with an increasingly unstable and unpredictable global market, and modern CMOs have their work cut out for them.

Head of Virgin Mobile Emma Jensen says, “I think there is a lot more instability globally and outwardly. There’s much more change happening. I’ve definitely experienced that. Everything’s so fast-paced and change is happening quite regularly.”

According to Jensen, the reasoning behind the shorter CMO tenure is the changing nature of the role.

“What’s happening is there is much greater and broader demands on the role of the CMO and that is causing the change as people try and orientate a different way of operation,” says Jensen.

On her thoughts about companies that have done away with their CMO positions and adopted new titles like chief growth officer, Jensen says it’s simply a signal of the evolution of the position.

“I think what organisations are trying to do is really signal an intent that expectations are now different. If you think about an organisation like Uber, or companies like that who are really experience-based, the core of the experiences are not about traditional marketing, it’s about how do you manage that experience? It’s definitely a change.”

Abbey agrees but says the changes in title are more “cosmetic” than anything else.

She says, “The shift in title signifies an organisation’s focus, bringing with it a responsibility to deliver. Having a single-minded focus highlights the CMO’s accountability to results and offers more influence over key growth factors like product decisions. Ultimately, whatever the title, the CMO (or CGO or CXO) needs to be a strong creative force, as creativity will help drive innovation across both brand and the experience.”

True: it’s a challenging time to be a CMO

With growing consumer demands and expectations and a broader remit, some would argue it’s more challenging than ever to be a modern CMO.

Abbey says, “CMOs of today face a completely different playing field than that of five to 10 years ago, thanks to tech disruption (platforms, martech, adtech, etc), which have forever altered the way we market. Customer expectations of brands have grown exponentially.”

Abbey adds that this transformation has supercharged the evolution and expectations of CMOs, which has shifted both mindsets and skill sets.

“This needs to show up in many ways: being open and adaptable to learning new skills, building the infrastructure required to manage huge datasets, having an intimate knowledge of your target market, driving clear growth outcomes and finding the creativity to build brand as a competitive advantage,” she says.

Conversely, Jensen says it’s no more difficult being a CMO, it’s simply different.

“I think we are [in a period] of exciting change for CMOs; a time when they can potentially have a bigger seat at the table. But it’s up to the CMOs to look at how do we try and really lobby for that bigger seat at the table.

“[Marketing] fundamentals haven’t really changed, but the tools and the technology of teams and how you do it has.”

False: the CMO is dead

The short of it is: CMOs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, current CMOs need to be prepared to broaden their job scope and keep up with an increasingly fast-paced milieu that’s consistently changing and becoming more tech-focused.

Abbey says, “The importance of strong creative remains as critical as ever, but CMOs who don’t adapt to emerging technologies will struggle to cut through.”

As traditional marketing methods continue to become less effective in a cluttered and fragmented media-dominanted world, if CMOs don’t keep up and adapt, then it might be “goodbye” to the CMO position for good.

So CMOs, you can take solace in the fact your job is safe… for now.



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