portrait of a future CMO
CMOs will need not only inspired artistry, but also critical thought PHOTO: Tachina Lee

Marketers know that words matter ... as do numbers. 

That’s why successful Chief Marketing Officers are developing split personalities — part artist, part technologist. In the future, the best of the best will be like Leonardo Da Vinci, renowned for both artistry and technological ingenuity, as well as that elusive x-factor called imagination.

The CMO in the Age of the Customer

The CMO is responsible for representing the brand in a way that intrigues and engages current and prospective customers. Artistry and design are necessary skills, but will prove insufficient for CMO success in the future. 

The forward-looking CMO must also ensure that they employ the latest technologies to collect quantifiable, actionable information to position the business and target prospective customers. Some CMOs may be personally uncomfortable with technology, and others may be reticent with using artistic techniques to design not just compelling messages, but compelling customer journeys. 

The future CMO must master both to define and lead the right customer experience initiatives. In their report, 2017 Predictions: Dynamics That Will Shape the Future in the Age of the Customer, Forrester Research envisions: 

“CEOs will exit 30 percent of their CMOs for not mustering the blended skill set of design and analytics.”

Forrester posits that a blended marketing skill set will be required, because the future CMO must be able to design exceptional customer experiences and drive digital business transformation in order to scale.

CMO as Chief Transformation Officer

McKinsey also challenges that companies must achieve personalization and do so at scale. Yet most companies still struggle to scale across all the ways they engage with customers. 

In its article "Marketing's Holy Grail," McKinsey maintains that the real CMO challenge is to transform the marketing organization’s processes and practices. The need is not simply for technology to leverage data-driven analytics, but to apply technology that transforms the marketing function in order to scale personalization.

McKinsey recommends CMOs follow four steps to transformation.

  1. Take a journey lens: Use behavioral data to find the value. Since the foundation of personalization is acting on behavioral data, McKinsey says marketing must group similar customers and understand their customer journey to create micro segments that form the basis of 1:1 personalization.
  2. Listen and respond: Plan in advance to react quickly to customer signals. McKinsey directs the CMO to use creative problem solving grounded in sound analytics in order to respond to customer signals with relevant and timely trigger messages.
  3. Build the war room: Empower a small group of the right people. Marketing needs to shift to a different way of working to avoid getting stuck as they go from a traditional marketing calendar to personalized triggers. McKinsey suggests CMOs take a kick-start approach with small dedicated teams to drive not just clickthroughs or page views, but a materially better customer experience.
  4. Rewire and hardwire: Focus on the processes and technology that really help teams work faster. To be able to work at this pace at scale, agile processes have to replace the old ones and the right automation technology needs to be put in place. McKinsey points out that there are literally thousands of providers of point tools, and despite vendors’ claims, no single party offers a true end-to-end solution. So the CMO must take care to combine process and technology to achieve transformational results.

These steps can guide the CMO to create and maintain brand relevance. Throughout, the CMO will need not only inspired artistry, but also critical thought.  

McKinsey tells us “Great chief transformation officers are not only good problem solvers and business leaders; they have a high emotional quotient and strong interpersonal skills. The most successful transformations we have seen are the result of igniting passion and leveraging the efforts of a range of individual talents.”  

Have I managed to describe the perfect future CMO? Not quite!

CMO as Business Innovator

The perfect future CMO will need to be a modern day Da Vinci. Renowned as an artist and for his prescient thoughts of technology advances, Da Vinci conceptualized flying machines and solar power, and made substantial discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, geology, optics and hydrodynamics. No wonder Da Vinci is revered for his "feverishly inventive imagination."

Just how might a modern day Da Vinci-esque CMO look?

Consider Beth Comstock. In 2003, she was named GE's first Chief Marketing Officer in more than 20 years. She proceeded to reinvigorate marketing across the company, introducing ecomagination, Imagination Breakthrough innovations and the "imagination at work" brand campaign. 

My personal favorite of the GE imagination series is the inventive — even whimsical — Ideas are Scary commercial. The commercial conveys the message that even though ideas may be scary, messy and fragile, when nurtured, they become something beautiful … and links this to the work GE does in bringing ideas to life through innovations that improve the world.

In 2015, Ms. Comstock was recognized as one of the 10 most influential CMOs. That same year, she was promoted to vice chair of business innovations, becoming GE’s first female vice chair. 

At the time of her promotion, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said: "Beth has a proven reputation inside and outside GE for transforming the enterprise and being a catalyst for digital innovation and growth."

Future-Perfect CMO

I started by saying the future CMO was going to need a split personality. But it seems the CMO will need that plus much more: artistry, technological savvy, an aptitude for digital transformation, and the kind of imagination and business acumen that spurs growth. Jennifer Rooney at Forbes tells us, 

“As CMOs increasingly assume responsibility for driving not just brand but business growth, they are gaining influence inside company walls, in the C-suite and in the boardroom.” 

In the future, we very well might see the best CMOs go beyond the CMO office to become the best future CEOs.