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More Than a Brand Steward: The Redefined Role of CMO

There is no doubt that the role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has changed significantly in the past decade. Once held up as a maven of creativity and brand, today’s technologies, customers, and pace of business demand CMOs have a wider handle on a variety of skill sets and a much deeper business acumen in order to move their team from cost to profit centers.

CMOs are still expected to be big brand and creative thinkers and organizations will always need this kind of talent to drive awareness, interest, and excitement in a brand. However, these somewhat intangible metrics have given way to hardcore month-over-month and year-over-year growth metric expectations, leaving some CMOs without the right people, processes, or technologies to deliver.

This is not a short-term trend either. One of the biggest shifts in the role highlighted by today’s CMOs is the demand for accountability and real contribution to an organization’s bottom line. Whereas marketing used to be all about generating “buzz” and vanity metrics, today’s CMOs are charged with building business cases around campaigns and reporting out post-launch ROI metrics to justify business value. While most CMOs agree this is a shift in the right direction, they also recognize they don’t necessarily have the right personal experience, team members, or skill sets to deliver on these expectations. In fact, in some organizations, more traditional “CMO ” titles have evolved into titles like “Chief Marketing and Data Officer” or “Chief Marketing and Growth Officer,” reflecting the very real business expectations of the role. This represents a significant shift in how organizations think about marketing and presents a welcome recognition that marketing is an important player in the entire value chain, not just the top of the funnel.

Along with expectations that marketing become inherently data-driven comes a modern CMO’s responsibility to understand the very real legal implications of collecting and acting on customer information. Under GDPR and CCPA, CMOs need to understand the current landscape of customer data privacy and data collection transparency laws and, moreover, how to address the experience of asking for and then acting on information captured so as not to alienate and lose customers they fought so hard to win. Therefore, CMOs are responsible for the entire customer experience from awareness to advocacy.

The industry’s response to the changing expectations of the CMO has varied ranging from headlines proclaiming the ‘Death of the CMO,’ to theories of ‘serial CMOs’ that posits companies need different types of CMOs at different periods depending on their maturity and lifecycle, to CMOs themselves leaving the positions after feeling overwhelmed and ineffective.

So do today’s CMOs need to be part brand whiz, part creative director, part data scientist, part lawyer, part UX designer, part…? The short answer is No. And Yes.


How to Get There

Digital transformation is business transformation and the CMO role isn’t the only traditional organizational role being disrupted as business needs and customer expectations evolve. Just like their C-suite counterparts, the CMO is first and foremost a leader, and a good leader recognizes their strengths and fills in knowledge and skillset gaps with team members who can educate and activate a marketing team as well as the entire organization.

So no, the CMO doesn’t need to be all things to all people, but they do need to continue to fill the traditional role of a strong organizational leader who doesn’t let ego get in the way of driving business goals and objectives. A modern CMO should understand enough to be heads up to the capabilities and disciplines needed to deliver on their goals, but always come back to the basics of leadership, creativity and agility that proved the role to be successful in the first place.

No matter a CMO’s background or how they’ve developed their teams, they are still responsible for the customer experience and as long as that is their North Star, a modern CMO only needs the ability to build and evolve their teams to respond to customer expectations.  If they can remain collaborative and agile in that pursuit, they will be able to deliver on the evolving expectations of the role.

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Kim Williams-Czopek

Kim Williams-Czopek is a Director of Digital Strategy at Perficient. She’s been a senior leader in several digital agencies, digital product companies, and served as VP of Digital on the brand side. She specializes in customer experience, commerce, digital responsibility, and digital business strategies.

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