The role of the CMO is undergoing a significant evolution from brand ambassador to customer champion and change agent. At least we think it is.

A study from the CMO Council and Deloitte, The CMO Shift is Gaining Business Lift, suggests that the change is happening, but maybe not as fast or quite the way you would expect.

Along with some key points from the study, I reached out to a few CMOs to get their perspective on the role of the CMO and the challenges they face. Those responses are peppered into the report stats and show that the opportunities are there, they just need to be taken advantage of.

The CMO study shows that 35% of senior management and boards have high expectations for the CMO as a growth driver. Another 33% say it’s their primary mandate. And for at least a third of the survey respondents, the rest of the company is on board:

It’s the age of the customer, and the changing role of the CMO is being swiftly driven by digital transformation across both B2B and B2C organizations. Customer experience is about people, not brands. So we must now drive change from the ‘outside in,’ rather than the ‘inside out.’

As CMO’s we have a unique opportunity to collaborate with sales, service, IT and R&D to better understand customer behaviors, to map customer journeys, and to be the change agent for all transformation initiatives.

Margaret Pacheco, CMO & Chief Digital Officer, DDM

But being a growth driver and a change agent and a CX champion AND running the marketing department is a heck of a lot of work. It also causes some challenges.

Operations are running the CMO show

Look at these numbers:

  • 6% are driving routes to revenue
  • 4% provide sales intelligence & key account insight support
  • 13% are actively working on retaining and growing the customer relationship

These are key responsibilities to driving growth and most aren’t doing them. Instead, most are running the marketing business:

  • Defining and shaping the brand (44%)
  • Executing campaigns (42%)

While CMOs have long claimed to be champions of the customer experience, the customer conversation continues to be mostly one-way in the form of advertising. While we have improved the effectiveness of advertising by embracing new channels and leveraging better data, the customer conversation is still more of a monologue than a dialog.

Contrast that approach with companies like who embrace radical customer intimacy–one of the main reasons Amazon has distanced itself from other cloud competitors. Amazon has the confidence to launch seemingly crazy new products like AWS Snowmobile (a 45ft long shipping container to transport massive amounts of data) because they spent thousands of hours listening to customers and understanding their pain before delivering a solution.

Competing with companies like Amazon requires the CMO to help the entire organization re-think what it means to put the customer at the center of the conversation. We need to strike a better balance between chasing short-term objectives and the long-term benefits that come from being the closest to your customers.

Tom Wentworth, CMO, RapidMiner

In the CMO study, the CMOs recognize they have to do things differently. How do they do that? They have to “…re-prioritize time and activities to embrace their growth driver mandate.” They need to delegate, and they need to bring in new skills to take the operational load off their shoulders.

But there is hope

Maybe things aren’t progressing for the CMO as quickly as many would like. But the signs are there telling us it is happening. Many CMOs are looking at the intelligence that gives them a window into motivations and behaviors. Some are looking for ways to continually improve the journey, and many are trying to identify the disconnects in customer experiences and rectify them.

To help a CMO push forward and embrace this bigger customer experience mandate the study offers a set of key opportunities:

The CMO should own insights and intelligence customers are sharing with the brand. This includes talking is disaffected customers and integrating all the points of intelligence to get a full picture.

My role and responsibility as CMO is to drive growth and be a champion for our customers. In doing so, marketing is more tightly aligned than ever from the very top down to the sales, services, and product development organizations, who share the mandate. The evolution of the CMO role is driven by the transformation to a digital economy, and at SAP, we look at the digital economy through the customer lens. Using data and insights made available by technology,

CMOs can enable a better and more seamless customer experiences across all channels. Whether our customers are in retail, entertainment or finance, my message to them is – every business has to be a live business to engage and delight their customers.

Maggie Chan Jones, CMO, SAP

They should adapt to technology disruption and shift their thinking, strategy and investments in technology and culture, ensuring this perspective and focus is shared across the organization.

I think the CMO has the opportunity to look beyond the 90-day selling motions that exist in most companies and therefore is an ideal agent for change. He/she is unencumbered (or should be) by the tactics and behaviors that drive this mentality. In this role, CMO’s can look at the consumer trends that are driving changes in how people ultimately interact with brands and companies that serve them.

This insight is critical in ensuring that companies remain on the front foot and adapt to the changing demands of their customers. From my perspective, it’s actually about the CMO’s ability to provide insightful, fact-based analysis, and commentary that drives change across an entire spectrum of customer engagement. This impacts not just how we market, but also how we sell and respond to customer needs.

For example, as a result of one recent initiative to look at the entire process of demand to revenue, we have been able to significantly alter and drive a change in our entire go to market strategy based upon the analysis, and testing of a theory which analyzed a range of signals we were receiving from our target audiences at different stages of their customer journey.

Jamie Anderson, Senior Vice President and CMO, SAP Hybris

Finally, CMOs need to communicate in the language of business – revenue. How can the CMO quantify and communicate marketing’s impact on the business? That is better understood every day. Peggy Chen, CMO of SDL added:

Marketing is not what it was five years ago, a decade ago, yet alone 20 years ago. Today, marketing is not just about content and information. There is more information in the world than people can possibly consume. It is about how consumers experience that information that matters. In the age of understanding, consumers need to easily access and comprehend the content that brands are producing in order to move from one phase of the customer journey to the other.

Marketing’s ultimate goal is to facilitate conversations in which both parties understand one another. Championing the customer means making sure that voice is heard (regardless of language). As the CMO of SDL and having just launched a rebrand less than a month ago, this shift was at the core of our motivation, drove the direction of our brand platform and strategy, and provided the guidepost on messaging.

As marketers, we are the custodians of the brand, but first that starts with defining the brand. The only way to build a strong brand is to truly understand who we are as a company (down to the employees), what we do (across all the products, services and solutions we offer), and why we do it (the customer need and how it impacts them).

The brand is more than just a logo and aesthetically pleasing colors; it’s the essence of the company and getting to the core of that is well beyond just a design exercise. As marketing has changed and continues to change, the ability of an organization to be continuously successful will require focus and attention on talent development, organizational design, process refinement along with the more commonly discussed topics like tools and technologies needed within a marketing ecosystem.

As the role of the CMO undergoes this evolution, there are numerous key opportunities and challenges which face us in the future.

Peggy Chen, CMO, SDL

Chen’s key opportunities for CMOs include:

  • Marketing plays a key role to redefine a company, meaning that marketers set the conversation with customers, not sales.
  • There is greater impact and influence on customers, as marketers drive the conversation with customers pre and post sales.
  • Through data and technology, we can understand customer needs and aspirations. Therefore, we have the ability to communicate customer requirements back to development, including promoting customer success stories.

While the challenges CMOs face are:

  • Limited time to do a true brand exercise and define it from the core.
  • Inability to have a holistic view of state of customer, due to departmental and data silos.
  • Tactical challenges, technologies and underlying processes remain unsynchronized, inhibiting the ability to deliver a synchronized and well executed”

My take

Evolution takes time. I do believe marketing is in the best situation to understand and support the entire customer experience – end-to-end, but I also know that day to day operations can get the better of us, whether we want them to or not.

This is not just an evolution of the CMO, or even of the marketing department. It’s a complete change in how business views itself. That view should be what the customer sees, anywhere they are in their journey.

This is not going to happen overnight. It’s a journey, and every organization is on it.

Originally published at

— Published in CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE on December 9, 2016


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