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Why the CMO is getting a re-brand in the digital world

By Rachel Bondi, CMO/COO, Microsoft Australia on May 22, 2017

Filed under Roles

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In a digital world, do we still need a CMO?

It may seem like a bold question, especially given my role at Microsoft, but in recent weeks we’ve seen some big brands remove the role of the CMO altogether while countless industry articles suggest the role of marketers is changing dramatically.

Considering the focus of the marketing function has always centered on the consumer experience, it seems a peculiar situation. But in a sense, it’s the right question to ask.

We no longer need a CMO in the way it was conceived many years ago – as the department that makes ads.

In recent years traditional CMO responsibilities have been heightened and expanded, increasingly defined by digital technologies but fundamentally, in 2017 the CMO is focused on tomorrow’s growth.

Today’s CMO is the company’s future-gazer and agenda-setter. They are someone who looks at the brand through the eyes of the consumer.
Marketing professionals have found themselves responsible for driving customer-centricity across the entire organisation, whether that’s new interactive engagement platforms, or sharing customer profiles with sales teams so they can tailor conversations. The shift in role has even seen some organisations re-brand the CMO position to Chief Growth Officer or Chief Customer Officer.

Within this, the expanded function of the CMO has never been more important to business. We have an unheralded opportunity to drive business change and improve outcomes.

Yet marketers are increasingly finding themselves stranded trying to navigate these unchartered waters.

Acting on Insights

Success today is largely defined by acting upon customer insights. But these insights are no longer only born inside the market department. Digital has created more opportunities to reach our customers. Which means these insights are scattered across organisations – from manufacturing to sales teams, and even from external suppliers. The number of stakeholders and touchpoints under a CMO’s remit can easily reach into the hundreds.

Digital has also armed us with the tools to prove the impact of our marketing efforts. But the flip side is this has bred short-termism in our outlook, with our C-Suite wanting to see results – in the form of ROI – now, not tomorrow. It does not set us up to create meaningful waves in an organisation or show the real value of our craft.

It all means the CMO has never had more to do, with less resources to do it.

Herein lies the CMO’s biggest opportunity, and most significant challenge – to make our roles about long-term growth.

How can we use our role as the champion of the customer to position our businesses for future success?

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How CMOs can fuel growth

In Microsoft’s Collaboration: driving the evolution of the CMO, we aim to get to the bottom of this question. Drawing upon insights from marketing leads at IAG, iSentia, PayPal, Meat and Livestock Australia, ThinkTV, and Mumbrella we explored the role the CMO plays in connecting departments across a business and refocusing them on the consumer experience to inform business growth.

For marketers to excel in their expanded role, they need to properly gauge what it is their customers want, if they’re to know how to position the company for the future. To achieve this, they need to collate customer data points from across an organisation, break down departmental siloes, and tap into different areas of individual expertise. They need to collaborate with stakeholders that they were once never connected with. This enables businesses to create data-driven, customer-first experiences, and is an example of looking to a future where marketing and technology are entwined.
It also means pushing innovation that matters. The CMO might not have the tech know-how of many other experts in the organisation, but as the voice of the customer they alone can drive meaningful change.

In some businesses, this need for the CMO to have a role in innovation has seen them positioned within a specialised in-company incubators. Elsewhere, it forms part of an explicit and newly widened remit. This allows the CMO to drive future growth for the business that speaks to the heart of what consumers want.

If the CMO is to realise this potential, it means our practical role within businesses has fundamentally changed; we’re now connectors between different departments. Collaboration is a critical enabler for extracting the best insights within a business and applying it for the good of the customer.

The CMO in the digital economy

So back to my original question – is the CMO relevant today?

Yes – the remit is now more far-reaching than traditional marketing responsibilities. And, as is the way in our profession, is finding itself increasingly re-branded, which explains the perception that the CMO is under threat of change.

Driving meaningful business growth is central to the future success of the CMO – or whatever job title these professionals are given. But we can only achieve growth if our outcomes are tied to our customers, and our businesses shaped to their wants and needs.

New technology is providing a clearer picture of who our customers are – and will continue to fuel us with insights in the years ahead. Those CMOs who get on the front foot today, who embrace this elevated role, will be ahead of the game and able to truly demonstrate the value they deliver back to the business.

Click here to download the “5 Tips for Improving Collaboration” e-book.

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