The Diminishing CMO Title: Significance or Semantics?

Forbes 2 weeks ago

Forrester Research’s 2020 Predictions report for CMOs says the stage has been set for “a desperate fight for survival,” as CMO positions will likely diminish in number again next year.

My first instinct was to shake my head in despair: yet another article lamenting the revolving door and shortened tenure of CMOs. But as I read further, it became clear the story was less about the varying functions of a CMO and more about the title itself.

Is the decline of CMO titles just semantics or a significant organizational change? Even if it’s just semantics, this may lead to the removing the marketing skill set from the C-suite at a time when businesses can least afford it. Today, companies are either disruptors or disrupted. The CMO represents the voice of the customer and culture in the room, giving the C-Suite the peripheral vision and edge to see trends and create sustained differentiation and growth.

If the digital revolution has taught us anything, it’s that culture is the biggest influencer in consumer behavior change. I’m not talking about emerging social media trends, but rather seismic changes like declining trust in brands (paving the way for D2C brands), rejection of ownership culture (paving the way for the Uber-ization of everything), or major changes in how people shop (on-demand delivery).

Losing the voice of customer and culture in the C-Suite can result in blinders that cause companies to miss a trend and end up months, if not years, behind competitors, which has unfortunately been an ingredient in the stagnation of many large enterprises.

Forrester asserts that today’s CMOs aren’t getting it done. “The real-time, data-intense reality of the digital age has turned the CMO from a brand-building or even direct marketing boss into a generator of customer outcomes,” the report states, but goes on to say that “most CMOs haven’t effectively navigated this transition.”

Forrester suggests that the elimination of CMO roles paves the way for jobs like Chief Growth Officer, Chief Experience Officer or Chief Customer Officer. That may be valid in some instances. But there’s also risk of replacing that seat with someone who may not necessarily have the required experiences or focus to ensure that businesses are attentive to those key customer and cultural data and insights that fundamentally shift their go to market strategy. Regardless of title, it’s critical that an executive suite has a modern marketer in it.

The role of marketing must be seen as business-critical by the CEO and the board; marketing is a growth driver, and if the senior-most marketing leaders feel on shaky ground both as individuals as well as in the business community, kicking them out does become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Limited exposure to business issues and are unable to actually help improve top and bottom line.

Instead, rather than continuing the revolving door of CMOs through this new titling scheme, companies can just raise the bar on the requirements and skills for a modern marketing leader. For example, there are wonderful examples of what Forrester calls “Elite CMOs” like Raja Rajamannar at Mastercard or Julia Goldin  at Lego, whose broader remits and successes are well-publicized. Additionally, executive search firms can also help by crafting job descriptions that keep the bar representative of what a modern-day CMO needs to be.

Cannes Lions 2019 : Day Two
CANNES, FRANCE - JUNE 18: Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Mastercard Raja Rajamannar ... [+] speaks on stage during the Mastercard session at the Cannes Lions 2019 : Day Two on June 18, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Christian Alminana/Getty Images For Cannes Lions)

The declining CMO title is a semantic one, but one with great significance if intended as a backdoor way to push out those who don’t rise to the diversified role of what a modern CMO should be doing.

CEOs and boards need the marketing skill set in the executive suite now more than ever. Rather than kill the CMO function, raise the bar on to address today and tomorrow’s challenges, make the success KPIs clear, and give them a seat at the table to own that accountability. This will give your company the greatest chance to continually be the disruptor, not the disrupted.

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