How the CMO Role Has Evolved — And What's Next

March 28, 2022

Contributor: Kelly Blum

As chief marketing officers take on more responsibility and ownership of CX, understanding the influence they have on company growth is critical to success in this rapidly evolving role.

The role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) has undergone a head-spinning transformation over the last decade. Once the leader of all things creative and brand, many of today’s CMOs are responsible for every aspect of the customer experience (CX), spanning technology, customer data and analytics, existing account growth and, ultimately, impact on the bottom line.

We sat down with Chris Ross, VP Analyst at Gartner, to get his point of view on how CMOs’ priorities have shifted, the influence they now have over business outcomes and overall growth, and what lies ahead.

Download now: The Top CMO Priorities, Trends and Strategic Actions to Take Now

We’ve heard a lot recently about how the CMO is, in some instances, becoming considered more of a “chief customer officer.” Why is this happening, and what is driving the change?

Over the last few years, businesses have become much more customer-focused — and a lot of that gets directed to things that operate under the banner of CX. CMOs are frequently the owners and drivers of CX, the scope and depth of which can be expansive and stretch beyond the traditional domain of a marketing organization. CMOs are required to lead the charge or at least play a major role in CX, and that’s driving this chief customer officer narrative.

There’s also something else at play: Today, CMOs and their teams need to be absolute experts on consumer or customer behaviors and trends and be hyper-aware of the competitive landscape, historical business performance and wider mega-trends. There’s no longer an option to operate without a powerful insight engine. You can’t be customer-centric if you don’t understand customers and the holistic reality of the world they live in.

How have CMOs’ priorities shifted in response to this change?

CMOs are re-embracing a more intelligent approach to strategy, which is to say strategies that are based on deeper insight and designed to be dynamic and adaptable. The last couple of years have made it clear the world can change quickly and dramatically. Organizations that can’t or won’t quickly adjust their strategies do and will continue to struggle.

Another big shift for CMOs is seeing more success optimizing for lifetime value (LTV) — and not just in terms of near-term transactional goals. There is always a tension between balancing near-term business objectives and long-term needs. The increased friction and costs to acquire new customers can be high, so finding and keeping the right customers has become much more important. Businesses and CMOs with vision and healthy financial positions are making LTV a priority.

Finally, brand has become more important than ever. The power of a healthy, vibrant brand has sustained many organizations through challenging times, and as buyers are overwhelmed with options in virtually every category, its impact has become clear. Our research shows that brand strategy is one of the areas CMOs are prioritizing to bring in-house as the importance of this area continues to grow. 

Learn more: What Is Digital Marketing Strategy — And What Are the Keys to Its Success?

How has the role of the CMO within the C-suite changed recently? Have their perceived value and influence over business objectives evolved?

Many CMOs have significantly improved their level of influence within their organizations by knowing more about the business, marketplace and customers than anyone else. The CMOs who know the most often have the greatest influence. They’re valued contributors to overall business strategy and have solid credibility with peers. CMOs more focused on the marketing “craft” can find themselves positioned as leaders of an execution organization, not drivers of strategy or heavy influencers of the overall direction of the business.

The scope of the CMO varies across organizations. There are the wide CMO roles, in which the CMO may have responsibility for CX, product strategy, innovation, communications and all the traditional marketing functions. Then there are the narrow CMO roles, where the scope may be limited to a region, business unit or product category. Managing the intersections — and sometimes collisions — with other C-suite roles is a challenge many CMOs face. These other roles aren’t good or bad; they just create the need to define roles and responsibilities within the organization and can make it more challenging for CMOs to clearly communicate the value of marketing.

As much as things change, they remain the same. The center of the bullseye for the vast majority of CMOs is growth, which CEOs look to CMOs and their teams to drive. For all the other things CMOs need to manage, they should never take their eyes off that ball.

Given all that, how do you see the CMO role evolving even further in the next five years?

There’s no doubt the CMO role is going to become more and more challenging, thanks to expectations for supporting the scope, speed and complexity the business requires. Next-generation CMOs will need to understand the nuances and power of brand, the emerging capabilities of technology and the hyper-speed shifts in culture and consumer behavior. They’ll need to build fluid, adaptable teams, work seamlessly with external resources and, of course, measure and optimize everything they do. CMOs are already grappling with all these same things, but velocity and complexity will make the future versions of these issues exponentially more complex. Being a CMO isn’t for the squeamish, but there may be no other role positioned to make nearly so great an impact.


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