times square busy intersection
What CMOs today do goes far beyond what was previously considered 'marketing' PHOTO: Joseph Yates

The average tenure for a CMO dropped almost 10 percent in the last year from 48 months to 44 months, representing the first decline in 10 years. According to the Spencer Stuart survey, CMO tenure peaked in 2014 at 48 months, which was more than double that of 2004.

A variety of forces are stacked against today’s CMOs: digital disruption, rising customer expectations, globalization, technology complexity and so on. 

Whether CMOs thrive or not in this environment depends on how well they can create seamless brand experiences and customer pathways between digital and physical worlds. 

Or as Young & Rubicam Global CEO David Sable says, “creating a complete lifestyle, enriched and enabled by technology rather than engulfed by it.”

Sable calls what CMOs face a “digital exponential,” where brands are “finding the exponential value of digital in the real world.” 

7 Imperatives for Today's CMOs

To thrive in this digitally exponential world, CMOs should embrace seven imperatives:

1. Drive Longer-Term Business Results

CMOs today are moving beyond brand, communications and marketing execution to better quantify the business impact of marketing. But it doesn’t stop there. 

According to a recent CMO survey, marketing budgets continued their steady ascent in 2016, climbing to 12 percent of company revenue. Marketing tech spending is on track to exceed CIO technology spending in 2017 as marketing looks after a growing number of customer touchpoints.

CMOs must have a forensic understanding of customers’ changing buying needs and motivations, while guiding their brands amidst technological and business model upheavals.

2. Operate as Part of the Broader C-Suite

Advanced CMOs recognize how marketing intersects with other functions. CMOs must not only gain the respect and trust of their C-suite peers but also actively work to align goals.

Hence, CMOs must be adept at balancing short-term initiatives and longer-term improvements that support their customer experience and brand-building efforts, while at the same time making sure those efforts sustain the broader business goals. While access to instantaneous information may tempt CMOs to fall into a short-term mindset, avoid this trap and reflect on the broader organization goals.

3. Work Closely with Other Parts of the Organization

We've witnessed an expansion of the CMO mandate: from what was largely a promotional role to what is now regarded as the growth engine for business. Marketing now carries an even higher level of responsibility for setting the strategy, to designing the end-to-end customer experience and more.

This responsibility extends to the areas of oversight for CMOs. The same CMO survey indicated that in more than 30 percent of organizations, at least some aspects of sales, IT and customer experience report to the CMO.

CMOs should collaborate with sales, service and other operations in the organization to identify processes where digital commerce could streamline the customer experience or business operations, such as giving business buyers the ability to interact with service and logistics. 

By aligning across departmental boundaries, CMOs can prioritize and execute those areas with the greatest business impact.

4. Partner with CFO to Address Mounting P&L Pressure

CMOs want to run marketing with greater financial accountability. 

According to a Heidrick & Struggles global survey of approximately 300 CMOs, 37 percent of CMOs view the CFO as a top relationship to develop. The study further reports that CMOs who own or share profit and loss (P&L) responsibility get budgets that are on average 20 percent higher than those without plans for a P&L. Clearly CMOs can earn greater authority through greater accountability.

CMOs must establish a clear link between marketing activities, marketing objectives and business outcomes. Speak the language of the business by understanding how business unit leaders evaluate marketing performance. Financial measures such as revenue, profit and shareholder value frame the C-Suite's understanding of overall corporate health.

5. Align with CIO to Develop a Strong Customer Experience Agenda

Technology aids CMOs in effectively engaging customers and creating practical insights that fuel business growth. But they need help with this. When CMOs build collaborative relationships with their CIOs, they can together identify and shape their enterprise technology agenda to drive brand preference and customer experience.

What does this mean for CMOs? 

Marketing is now also responsible for critical customer-facing, revenue-generating systems and applications. It means marketing has a fiduciary responsibility to collaborate with enterprise IT, ensuring efficient and harmonized technology spending on CX.

6. Build Emotional Brand Connections

Although brands may be liked or trusted, many fail to engage authentically with the emotions that drive their customers’ most profitable behaviors. Some brands naturally have an easier time making such connections. 

But a company doesn’t have to be born with the emotional DNA of Harley-Davidson or Disney to succeed. Even a weed killer or paper towels can forge powerful emotional connections.

Embracing an emotional‐connection strategy across the organization requires deep customer insights, analytical capabilities, operational agility and executive commitment to align the organization with the new way of thinking.

Marketing can use emotional connection to demonstrate the direct financial impact of its spending. Then CMOs can view brand as an asset for investment and differentiation, rather than an expense to be managed.

7. Get Artificially Intelligent

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for decades, but has seen a resurgence as data size and diversity continue to grow. 

Data is growing by 2.5 quintillion bytes (2.5 billion GB) every day — enough to fill 10 million Blu-ray Discs (remember those?), equivalent to the height of four Eiffel Towers stacked one on top of the other. 

This growth in data has fueled more algorithmic and real-time approaches to addressing different business issues, and customer experience in particular.

The nexus of big data analytics and the various forms of AI, including predictive analytics, machine learning and deep learning, underpin well-informed and efficient customer interactions that benefit both customers and businesses.

Through AI, CMOs can adapt and evolve through exposure to new data over time, and can play a critical role in business’s ability to intelligently transform existing processes without being limited by the speed of humans.

More Than 'Marketing'

The increasing urgency to drive a customer-ready business will weigh heavily on the CMO’s shoulders.  

For the next generation of CMOs, doing “marketing” will not be a prerequisite for the job or their tenure. The convergence of digital and physical customer experiences will have a ripple effect on other disciplines within the company. It will be up to the CMO to manage competing interests, harness new skills and orchestrate a seamless brand experience for the customers in a digitally exponential world.