CMO: The impossible job?

CMO: The impossible job?

6 minute read

Has CMO become an impossible job? Five industry leaders share their view.

Article details

  • Author:WFA


26 February 2024
Is CMO the impossible job
From left to right: Taide Guajardo, Sue Unerman, David Porter, Deborah Malone and Rupen Desai.

Another year, another round of well-documented cases of companies reorganizing the marketing function and renaming, rebranding our simply removing the role of CMO.

Mark Ritson has told the industry in his inimitable style to stop pontificating in his latest column for Marketing Week.

At WFA we’ve certainly witnessed how this discussion seems to come around cyclically every few years tending to coincide with a bunch of CMO lay-offs.

And while we don’t seriously think that the CMO’s role is under threat, it’s clear that new technologies and trends do pose questions as to whether we might want to reconsider the remit and scope of the role.

We asked five marketing leaders for their views. What’s their reading of this latest trend? Do they see this is as a cyclical fad or is there something new going on? Has CMO become the impossible job?

Sue Unerman

Chief Transformation Officer (EssenceMediacomX) and Global Head of Relevance (EM Creative Futures)

The role of a modern marketer in the new communications economy is complex, has multiple responsibilities and requires influence beyond direct reporting lines. In this new communications economy, people are not harder to reach (their time spent with media has risen over the last decade), but they are harder to reach with advertising (so much of that time is spent with media that are not ad supported). And so the shape of marketing plans, and what is in them, must change.

Today’s CMO needs to get people working together in the best possible way, whether they work directly for them or not. And crucially the CMO must champion the new marketing plans with clarity to the boardroom, where there is sometimes still little innate understanding of marketing. It is much better for the organisation when this happens.

Mckinsey states that CEOs who place marketing at the core of their growth strategy are twice as likely to have greater than five percent annual growth compared with their peers. The role of a CMO is no longer about doing one thing very well – like a goal-hanging Gary Lineker – it’s about supporting everyone and joining things up – like Xavi. Be less Gary, be more Xavi.

CMOs that embrace this new role will find that they are more important to the organisation than ever before.

David Porter

Strategic Advisor

On top of their “traditional” responsibilities, contemporary CMOs must frequently take responsibility for building new businesses in eCommerce and Social Commerce, designing and implementing data strategies as well as leading in any emerging area with “digital”, “data”, “sustainability” or “social” in its title.

Some of these spaces – notably Commerce and data-driven marketing – are ill-suited to generalists “leading from the front”. Things go better when “leading from the middle”, putting greater trust in the specialists: data scientists, media experts and so forth.

The oversupply of metrics hasn’t helped. Commerce metrics are vital and attention is moving to the heart of media planning. But most brands overspend on adtech and martech, drowning in measures that are either duplicated, past their sell-by date (Share of Voice), misleading (too often, the supply chain marks its own homework) or driving short-termism at the expense of brand building.

Perhaps it’s time to simplify or split CMO roles, or to reorganise around the deep specialisms which brand teams now require.

Taide Guajardo

Chief Brand Officer P&G Europe

In today's conversation about marketing, there seems to be an overemphasis on communication alone, neglecting the other crucial aspects of the discipline. This is a disheartening departure from the comprehensive definition established by marketing pioneer Philip Kotler.

Marketing encompasses a careful blend of product, pricing, place and promotion, with communication representing just one facet. While the field has become more intricate, it still revolves around these four dimensions. This, I believe, lies at the heart of the problem.

Merely appointing a C-suite executive to handle communication may not yield a satisfactory return on investment. At P&G, marketing is fundamentally about brand building, with our brands being our most precious assets after our people. The Brand Manager assumes the role of a general manager, shouldering the responsibility for strategizing, planning and executing a winning formula. They collaborate closely with R&D and Design to create an irresistible product and packaging. They devise pricing and promotional strategies that deliver exceptional value to both consumers and customers. They also design distribution strategies, ensuring differentiation where necessary. Moreover, they craft captivating brand campaigns, leveraging the most effective media channels available.

The Chief Brand Officer acts as a vital business partner, enabling the realization of these goals. If this happens, there is no question to be asked!

Deborah Malone

Founder at The Internationalist

“May you live in interesting times" is an apt expression for 2024, particularly as marketing leaders are tasked with expanded responsibilities of extraordinary complexity and greater accountability. However, the skills, strategies and innovations marketers can wield are now indispensable. Even McKinsey research suggests that as CEOs look for the next engine for growth, “a redefined and reinvigorated relationship with their CMO” can provide the answer.

Interestingly, it is the complexity of the role that concerns some, and new job titles appear to augment, rather than replace, the multifaceted top marketing assignment. Spencer Stuart’s Richard Sanderson recently commented when presenting the organization’s 19th Annual CMO Tenure Study:

“I’ve yet to see two organizational charts that show any similarities in CMO roles. We find a uniqueness in how a company defines a Chief Marketing Officer. However, if we look at a CFO job description, for example, 80% of what’s outlined is comparable among companies and across industries. Given the new complexities of marketing, there is now some fragmentation in top marketer titles, which is why we’re seeing new terms like Chief Brand Officer or Chief Customer Officer.”

As the role of Chief Marketer continues to evolve, CEOs must not only clarify responsibilities, but also create a measurable framework for success. And they need one person who can reliably unify brand stewardship, customer experience, sales enablement and omnichannel tactics.

Rupen Desai

CMO and Venture Partner, Una Terra

The real conversation should not be about job titles, but about value creation and marketing’s pivotal role in this. The prevailing notion of defining value in a linear, degenerative and dehumanized manner to create economic value for the shareholder is failing us, our future generations and the planet we live on. Marketing runs the risk of becoming the pointy spearhead of short-term sales activation and missing the biggest opportunity of our time.

Long-term well-being for all is the demand of our times. What companies truly need are new value creation models that do not erode our planet or make communities unequal, in growing economic returns. For example, food companies need to figure how healthy food becomes more affordable, available and acceptable. Technology companies need to find value in making the lives better of the bottom end of the pyramid. Climate scientists need our communication skills to ensure the science is understood and acted upon.

Let’s reimagine the birth of a new Chief Value Officer— a leader not solely fixated on shareholder returns, but dedicated to advancing the interests of all stakeholders. This individual wouldn’t settle for merely generating returns on economic capital, but also actively contribute to the growth of planetary and social capital. They would lead our companies away from the language of degenerative growth towards a new, humanized, regenerative language – one where, people, planet and prosperity thrived together, interdependently, never sacrificing one for the sake of another.

We can decide, later what we call this Chief Value Officer. My vote would be ‘Chief Marketing Officer’.

Article details

  • Author:WFA


26 February 2024