Today’s CMO: Transforming the role to be ready for what’s next

CMO Chief Marketing Officer Business Concept.
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Even before the onset of this year’s twin health and economic crises, the role of the chief marketing officer had grown complicated.

On average, CMOs are the shortest-tenured members of the C-suite. Boards demand greatness from them. They are expected to be customer champions, frontline defenders of the brand, stewards of internal morale and culture, and drivers of company growth initiatives. Yet only 26% of CMOs are invited to attend board meetings regularly, according to research from Deloitte. Expectations are high, but access and influence are low.

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Source: Deloitte/Society for Corporate Governance, Board Practices Report: Common practices across boardrooms, 2019.

In today’s environment, these challenges have only grown more stark. As businesses work to reinvent their product, channel, and demand strategies in the midst of quarantines, shutdowns, and changing consumer needs, CMOs need to be ready to deliver growth and create resilient marketing plans. The question is: Does the CMO role have the support needed to succeed?

To understand how CMOs can break the cycle of high expectations and constrained influence, last year we spoke with board members from over 50 Fortune 1000 companies and followed up with CMOs from various industries this year to understand how COVID-19 has affected them. Our learnings, further detailed in our new report below, point to ways that CMOs can reframe their position and become leaders in digital transformation. While it can be a difficult task, the findings prove that despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, there is no one better prepared than the CMO to help companies survive and thrive no matter what comes next.

What’s changed for the CMO?

One thing that has not changed: Growing the business is still the CMO’s chief goal. As one CMO put it, “the role of CMO these days is really being a chief growth officer for the company.” The CMO plays an ever more critical role in creating and managing a strategy to achieve sustainable, profitable growth. In a given week or month, CMOs spend much of their time working with teams to run the business, solve problems, and support short-term and long-term growth opportunities that can net immediate wins and set the company up for future success. The remainder of their time is often spent managing and supporting their people.

What has changed is how that business growth is achieved. COVID-19 interrupted supply chains and drastically altered shopping patterns. Marketers had to adapt on the fly, pausing or canceling campaigns, finding new messaging that was relevant and respectful of the times, and adjusting to a new reality in which digital and contactless shopping behaviors were accelerated.

Retailers have long been beefing up e-commerce solutions, but the pandemic led to millions of new consumers turning to online shopping, digital brand interactions, contactless payments, and omnichannel fulfillment methods (such as, curbside delivery, in-store pickup).

As consumer shopping continues to shift online, CPG industry CMOs are speeding up previous efforts to capitalize on direct-to-consumer growth opportunities. “COVID has accelerated trends already out there,” said one head of marketing at a CPG company. “We’ve had a plan to attack this, and now we have to accelerate how we go about it.”

For the automotive sector, these changes have highlighted the role of analytics in the CMO’s role. COVID-19 “has accelerated shopping online, digital shopping, etc.,” said the CMO of an auto brand. “It has also accelerated the focus on the importance of a robust analytics team that can help sort through all the data and turn it into actionable insights that drive the organization forward.”

In the thick of the pandemic, the U.S. also saw nationwide protests over centuries-long racial injustices. This development brought a renewed focus on diversity in the corporate sphere. Regardless of industry, while many CMOs already had a pre-existing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, they are now taking even more steps focused on long-term investment to reflect those core values. This includes efforts to improve retention, increase diversity in leadership, and focus on inclusive recruiting strategies.

In 2020, CMOs found themselves faced with building resilience into their organizations not only to survive very real short-term perils, but also to ensure sustainable growth into an uncertain future. With these shifting priorities, today it is more crucial that CMOs manage these new expectations with their boards.

The 5 CMO archetypes

So what’s a CMO to do? Since the CMO can’t be all things at once, it’s best to focus on your strengths and the board’s expectations. Deloitte has tested five different archetypes that can help CMOs do just that. Involving the CEO and board early, to understand where they perceive the greatest value, and enlisting them as thought partners and sounding boards, will help you figure out which archetypes will set your company up for success.

Does your company need its CMO to be a customer champion, a leader who leans in to provide customers with data, insights, and analytics that enable business growth? That type of CMO should focus on providing a superior, personalized experience for their customers, building campaigns that empower customers, and delivering measurable results.

Or should your CMO be a growth driver for your business, relentlessly focused on delivering sustainable growth for the organization, with campaigns that increase customer acquisition and drive cohort growth?

Does the board want its CMO to be an innovation catalyst, focused on building breakthrough customer offerings, experimenting with new technology, data, and techniques? This type of CMO transforms the customer experience while improving internal processes.

For some companies, particularly startups or legacy companies in a strategic reboot mode, CMOs need to be capability builders, developing robust marketing capabilities and hiring great teams with broad expertise in data and analytics.

Finally, many boards expect their CMOs to be chief storytellers, creating narratives that promote the brand and relating the company’s position and relevance through compelling content.

For startups or legacy companies that are in a strategic reboot mode, CMOs need to be capability builders.

 

You can probably be two things at once, but you can’t be all of them. Aligning with your CEO and board to understand what your company needs now is the first step and will help enable long-term success.

Now is the time

In the current environment, some CMOs feel they have permission to discard past processes or ways of thinking, and to instead explore new ideas and growth paths, like digital transformation.

Given this, most CMOs should focus above all on innovation and growth — on building data and insights-driven marketing organizations that can read customer signals at scale and make them actionable in real time. In a dynamic market, that’s where CMOs can help organizations grow and stay resilient. Now is the CMO’s moment to shine.

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