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To Be, or Not to Be? Is the CMO Role Finally Being Shelved for Covid?

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Sarah Shilling, CMO at UNLIMITED takes a look at the what the CMO role means now in a post Covid-19 world

To Be, or Not to Be? Is the CMO Role Finally Being Shelved for Covid?

Let’s face it, the role has been in an out of the board room, more than pots of coffee. But, once again, the debate is back. This time, under a new definition.

As CMO’s start the recovery of their marketing plans from the debris of Covid-19 pandemic, they face the same challenge, this time it has a razor-sharp edge. What is their role now their customers behaviours have changed so much, they are probably barely recognisable?

Some brands have totally ditched CMO’s whilst others have reappointed. Earlier this year Three UK merged its CMO role into marketing with customer service (Netflix and Johnson & Johnson had already done the same). On the flipside, McDonald’s reinstated the role and Coca-Cola restored it having replaced it with a chief growth officer in 2017. The C-Suite carousel of change continues.


So, who has the right approach?  

The challenge with the traditional view of the CMO is its definition and remit. Where does the CMO role stop and the Chief Technology officer start? Or is the CEO or CMO ultimately responsible for growth? These questions muddy the water and play havoc with job dynamics. 

Professor, author and entrepreneur Scott Galloway said at the Festival of Marketing that CMOs should transform themselves into chief intelligence officers, urging marketing leaders to position themselves as the person who is responsible for informing every part of the supply chain and understanding how the business maintains margin and differentiation.


However, for me, it’s all C-suite semantics. 

When not knowing what to do with the CMO role, we resorted for a while in 2019 to playing acronym bingo. We saw the rise of the CRO (chief revenue officer) and the CGO (chief growth officer). As the CMO of an agency group with Human Understanding at the core of our proposition, in theory, that should perhaps make me CHUO (chief human understanding officer) as behavioural-led insight is integral to the growth of all clients. And back to Scott Galloways point, it’s this forensic understanding and intelligence that he refers to, that ultimately informs how a brand needs to behave and interact with its customer.

Everyone in the business impacts growth, however, it’s the CMO role that steers the ship into the best headwind for that growth and therefore needs to be defined as that within the business growth trajectory. 

There’s also an issue with the term ‘marketing’. Often the CMO might be responsible for holistic growth, yet the term ‘marketing’ is quite old fashioned and doesn’t always encompass that responsibility (that’s another subject for another time). It’s quite heavily tied to 80’s and advertising, therefore people don’t see it as a modern discipline. Reputation drives growth yet still businesses have Corporate Communications sitting in a silo outside of the CMO’s remit. Ironic when brand purpose and the right / wrong messaging can make or break a brand overnight. 

For the brands mentioned above, there are many reasons for the CMO role being ‘displaced’ one being the change in the chief technology officer’s role and sudden surge in driving programmatic around the customer journey. Overnight, digital heads had a better handle of data, and therefore a competitive advantage in understanding customers, how they behave and how to commercialise those behaviours. 

There’s been a battle of remit for about three years due to the sophisticated digital alteration and change in marketing channels and strategies, alongside lots of debate around whether the CMO role should exist at all.

So it’s not about scrapping the title but about refreshing the meaning and responsibilities for business growth, because everything needs a refresh once in a while, particularly when the unexpected happens (thanks Covid-19).

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UNLIMITED, Thu, 22 Oct 2020 11:00:42 GMT