The rise of marketing analytics and the primacy of customer experience have seen CMOs emerge as the “know it all” of the c-suite as they have a better understanding of the industry, customers and business than their peers.
The question for the leaders of a profession long derided as "the colouring-in department" and which fumbled its opportunity to grab hold of the organisation-wide digital transformation agenda during the last decade, is whether this new prestige can be parlayed into CEO roles or board seats.
Chris Ross, VP Analyst at Gartner explained that CMOs have significantly improved their level of influence within their organisations.
He writes, “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 organisation, not drivers of strategy or heavy influencers of the overall direction of the business.”
Tasman Page, marketing director at Employment Hero said there has been a seismic shift from focusing on selling products and services to developing customer experience and value add.
“Back in the day, my marketing team would have probably spent 80 percent of our time talking about our product and services and 20 percent of our time doing value add activities for the customer or prospects,” he said.
“With Employment Hero we're spending 80 percent of our time creating value for the customer. We probably only spend about 20 percent of the time selling our product. There is an expectation from customers that we move towards this providing value and less hard sell.”
Over the past few years, marketers have played a key role in how a business communicates with customers and prospects during the twists and turns, in an empathetic and meaningful way, Taz Bareham, CMO of JobAdder said.
“A marketer’s role is to be immersed in the real world, to embrace the nuances of their audiences’ whole lives, not just the industry they play in, to ensure brands stay grounded and relevant and to challenge other leaders to see the world from the outside in, not just the inside out,” she said.
Through increasing digitisation, CMOs are working hand in hand with CEOs to represent the voice of the customer and guide business strategy, according to Anshu Arora, director of marketing and student acquisition, RMIT Online.
“Marketers now hold a lot of both quantitative and qualitative data on the customer. These customer insights have now become critical in not only helping businesses identify opportunities and barriers, but also prioritising customer-centric solutions,” she said.
“For some time, marketing has been shifting towards a digital focus, with businesses attracted to the ROI of advanced capabilities in targeting and personalising messaging to highly segmented audiences.
“Whilst this highly analytical approach has opened up a seat for marketing at the executive level, there is still a very important place for content and communication, where data can be supported with strong and impactful communication strategies to ensure a deeper and more meaningful connection with audiences,” she added.
The toolbelt of a CMO has expanded quite significantly, as the business of marketing has become more measurable and CMOs have become more accountable.
Brett Chester, SVP Marketing at Deputy said CMOs were once only working with offline channels and now have to be versed in digital too.
“You’re talking about having skill sets that need to be bridging the divide between online, offline and all the various permutations there are in between.
“Being able to measure forecast, attribute and to track that the whole way through to lifetime value, that's an interesting place to be because you're on an equal footing with the head of sales,” he said.
Denise Broady, CMO at Appian explained the CMO is several roles in one as the head of marketing works with more software than any other executive.
“We’re working so closely with the CIO and as part of that we have the biggest spend of the company,” she said.
“But I think the big shift is just having this growth mindset to figure out how do we help the company grow, and invest in areas beyond you know, brand and demand and keeping up with all the digitalisation.”
Duncan Egan, Vice President of Marketing, APAC, Adobe said the scale and the momentum of customers’ shift to digital platforms have been extraordinary.
“To keep up with the ever-changing landscape, marketing departments must focus on delivering personalisation at scale,” he said.
“The need for personalised interactions and content for millions of customers across touchpoints is critical, and marketers can anticipate the customer expectation of these brand experiences to only accelerate.”
As custodians of not only the brand but their customer’s first-party data, CMOs are in the driver’s seat of customer journey management, delivery of personalised digital experiences, brand loyalty and, as a result, sustainable business growth, Egan explained.
“Heightened customer expectations, an abundance of data, and the maturity of machine learning and AI capabilities will continue to drive the push for individualised, personalised brand experiences,” he added.
Gavin Watson, marketing, creative and advertising industry lead at Monday.com said the introduction of fast-paced, intuitive technologies and access to high volumes of consumer insights has caused a substantial shift in the role of marketers over the last two years.
“Customer insights and expertise are recognised for their value and are now shared within an organisation to develop and shape brand goals, objectives and strategy,” he said.
“Marketing teams do not sit in silos but work in line with each segment of a business, sharing insights and utilising technologies to improve life cycle management and customer experience platforms.”
The customer-focused marketer
As organisations have shifted their focus to be consumer-centric, CMOs have also had to switch their alignment to mirror those sentiments.
Egan at Adobe explained the economy has fundamentally changed as we are now a digital-only world where digital experiences have become the norm to connect, engage, educate, and transact business.
He said, “The ability to deliver great customer experiences online is no longer just a nice-to-have—it is a competitive requirement. It is a massive undertaking that won’t get far without a solid digital foundation. Strong analytic capabilities are needed to guide real-time decisions.”
Teams need a culture of testing, Egan said, “Job number one is optimising your website for different audiences, it requires a strong digital platform and constant testing to ensure content and experiences are personalised for each visitor.
“This same rigour needs to be applied to all paid and earned media. Additionally, customer experience management (CXM) has become a top priority for all organisations today and is an increasing focus for leadership.”
The CMO now holds a strong position within the c-suite to steer brands in the right direction, responsible for acquiring customers and securing their interest as market competition increases, Watson said.
“They are responsible for echoing the customer's voice both up and down the business, all the way from senior leadership through to on-the-ground employees. Identifying and re-adjusting business and marketing strategies to meet customer expectations is integral to the role of the CMO in 2022, which has increased visibility and potential for leadership,” he said.
Katherine Cole, CMO at RK Group said because of social media and reviews companies have had to put customers at the centre of their product and every decision they make.
“I've always put the customer front and centre to the point where I start at any company, the first thing I do is look at all the feedback, reviews, sentiment, and the elements that make up a reputation. To try and work out where's the whitespace? What how can we solve their problems?”
Cole said the customer has to be number one as they are the reason for a brand’s existence.
“If you’re not putting the customer in the centre of your marketing activities, then you're already failing,” she added.
Quantitative versus qualitative
Being data-driven is a need not a want for CMOs as they are required to make more decisions from their head rather than their heart.
The CMOs role is becoming more of an “athlete” role rather than a specialist role, Denise Broady at Appian explained.
She said the CMOs of today and the future are being asked to manage product launches, work on product strategy, deciding on what new marketers to enter.
Another important task that is overlooked is the ability to read financials which isn’t normally attributed to the CMO.
Broady said, “People have a misconception that our day is all qualitative, and it's not. If you think through the customer journey, and you look at how you prioritise the budget and to which region.
"Being able to look at that data and action, is pretty much how you slice out the budget versus ‘I have a great relationship with the person in this region so they get more money’. It's not that gut feeling anymore.”
Egan at Adobe said the dramatic shift in marketers’ responsibility means focus areas and ways of working must also adapt.
“Agility isn’t just the domain of marketers—it’s key to business transformation. Leaders must orient their people, process, and technology around the customer and drive innovation effectively,” he said.
“A focus on results in a quantitative, digital-first world means measuring and monitoring has never been more important. Being analytical is a requirement today, just like good communication skills.”