The Best of Times? The Rise of the CMO

Posted 13 March 2015.

​by Lindsay Mouat, CEO, ANZA

​Has there been a better time to be in marketing? Certainly Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever thinks not. “Digital marketing is changing fast. It enables you to bring real magic into your marketing (with) real creativity in a way that wasn’t possible before. And equally important, it makes you build logic into your marketing with data … with mobile, coming together with social and data to take marketing to a whole new level.”

Digital technology challenges our traditional notion of what a brand is and what that means to consumers. The functional benefits that launched the first brands are now just a small part of the equation. In the digital age, information is readily accessible to citizens who want to discover more about the brands they follow and admire, not just in their own countries, but in every country where they operate.

As digital marketing has augmented, and even replaced traditional touch points, so the role of CMO is fast evolving - part strategist, part creative director, part technology leader, and part teacher. Increasingly the CMO’s role is about aligning technology with business goals. In many cases this means actively developing new digitally-based business models as well.

Of course, marketers still seek to build the brand, create consumer awareness, and earn customer advocacy. However, the digital revolution is radically changing the means. We are increasingly seeing CMOs at the forefront of business transformation rather than being marginalised in communication-centric responsibilities. This reflects that digital provides more than a media channel, but is a means to disrupt established categories placing true marketing again at the centre of business.

The rise in digital budgets is not merely a migration of spending from traditional to digital media. A growing portion of marketing’s budget is now allocated to technology itself. This presents new challenges for the marketing department, not least the importance of mastering these new capabilities.

It also demands that marketers reconsider the nature of the relationships they have with their agency partners – both creative and media. A focus in recent years on ‘more for less’ has encouraged a view of agencies as suppliers rather than partners. The last few years could be characterised as the ‘Age of Procurement’, with agencies seeing their services commoditised and margins squeezed. Clients have reclaimed strategic stewardship.

The agencies that prosper in this new world order will demonstrate true innovation in service and delivery. They will demonstrate an ability to create and design products for their clients. They will change their own business model in a manner that will help clients prosper, with a clearer line between insight and idea (and reward for these) and implementation, which will be increasingly transactional. Clients will be looking for architects rather than builders.

The nature of the client-agency relationship must evolve. Best practice demands collaboration, not just integration. This is particularly important because digital has the potential to create unrest with a “we can do that” view around the table. Industry relationship consultants Aprais talk of the need for marketing departments “to be the strategic ring masters, uniting a multi-disciplined team”, where all are clear on everybody’s roles and responsibilities”. Easier said than done, especially when remuneration is output dependent, but without honesty around capability, meaningful collaboration will be difficult.

As agencies need to evolve so too do clients. Marketing departments have to be reconfigured so that campaigns are actively and constantly monitored. Any remaining remnants of launch and leave mentality is thankfully in the past. The days of work feverishly towards a campaign launch, then standing back and wait to see its impact have been lost in a sea of real-time data. Now the focus is on the growth of the child not the birth.

Has there been a better time to be in marketing? No. CMOs have never before had the variety of tools at hand to both create and measure. Such an environment provides exciting challenges which can only enthuse those at the leading edge of our craft.