What’s next for the CMO?

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Matt Hobbs/Public Domain Archive

It seems everyone has an opinion on the changing role of the CMO. Some people think the CMO will become the next big technology evangelist. Some people argue that the traditional CMO role is dead. And others think the CMO is destined for the CEO seat.

While the future of the CMO role is not completely clear, the one thing for certain is that the role is rapidly changing. In a recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review’s website, a group of McKinsey & Company partners shared their view on how the role of Chief Marketing Officer has evolved and what new challenges and responsibilities today’s CMO must take on to succeed.

Spoiler: It’s a lot of new responsibility.

According to the blog post and McKinsey’s DataMatics 2013 survey, a successful CMO should learn how to:

  • Leverage data-driven insights: This goes way beyond checking how many times you were retweeted. No, these customer analytics must inform actions that measurably impact growth and marketing ROI. Increasingly, a CMO’s team should be combing through data to find out why customers are losing interest in a certain product, or why they tend to drop off at a certain point in the sales cycle. Then they need to create revenue-driving solutions to these problems – problems that, often, they never even knew their customers had.
  • Create a streamlined customer experience across every channel: Handling all sales from a central point, like a website, retail store or call center, will no longer cut it. Today’s customer is more loyal to customized, consistent and convenient service than to any brand. How does this affect companies in practice? Well, if a company refuses to do customer service over social media, then angry customers will storm their social accounts anyway. If a company refuses to sell products on a mobile app, then mobile-centric buyers will find another company that does. Obviously, this varies depending on the service the company provides, but CMOs need to be adapting marketing and sales channels to fit customer needs, and not expecting customers to adapt to the company’s preferred channel. As Oracle president Mark Hurd emphasized back in January, “Customers are in the driver’s seat.”
  • Build a bridge between the marketing department and the rest of the organization: Of course, a CMO will fail at the above tasks if they fail to convince IT, customer service, sales and other departments that important changes need to be made. McKinsey refers to this phenomenon as becoming the “glue” that brings together previously segmented departments to drive enterprise-wide initiatives.

These new requirements are driven by a flurry of changes over the past decade, from the rapid introduction of digital tools to the increasingly commoditized, competitive global market. But don’t think for a second that, with these new responsibilities, CMOs can brush aside key marketing components like messaging, advertising, product launches, media relations and so on.

So, how can CMOs possibly accomplish all of this? The answer is, typically, they can’t. After all, the very same DataMatics 2013 survey found that “only 30 percent of companies believe they understand their customers’ needs well enough to identify what initiatives will drive growth.” But that’s why today’s top CMOs are all about improving not only the product and marketing campaigns, but also the customer experience – all via data-driven insights. And the very best ones already know: Their marketing departments can’t do it alone.