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The Evolving Role of the CMO

Part one of a multi-part blog series in which Pegasystems CMO Grant Johnson sits down with other CMOs and Industry experts to talk about burning issues that are top of mind for B2B and B2C marketers.

The CMO role is rapidly transforming, in large part due to the rapid pace that social, mobile, cloud and big data mega trends are becoming pervasive and changing the very nature of business. In this first installment, I spoke with three CMO thought leaders to better understand the most significant aspects of the new CMO role and what it takes to succeed in an increasingly digital world:  David Cooperstein, VP, CMO Practice Director, Forrester Research; John Ellett, CEO of nFusion and author of The CMO Manifesto; and John Neeson, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Sirius Decisions.

It became clear during the course of several dynamic conversations I’ve had recently that six key elements define the essence of the modern CMO, and how well they are put into practice can largely determine whether he or she will succeed in shaping company success or be relegated to the historical role of merely owning branding and communications.  I share many of the same views that my counterparts and I discussed, and there are many take-aways from each interview.

In the first part of this article, I will cover these first three key elements:  Old vs. New; Marketing Science; and Marketing Technologist.   In the second part, I’ll delve into the other three: Achieving Alignment; Business Partner; and Customer Driven.

 

Old vs. New

The old CMO was focused primarily on corporate marketing and strategic communications, without full operational responsibility or a regular seat at the table in the C-suite.   The new CMO is, according to Neeson, a “more cross-functional role that touches every part of the business.” CMOs now must be “constantly looking at things and evaluating from a strategy standpoint to determine what they can do better.”   To succeed in the new world requires not only a firm grip on navigating the complexity of the business environment, but also, according to Ellett, the ability to influence C-suite peers and “share insights across the organization that help shape both corporate strategy and operational excellence.”  It’s a balancing act to maintain an operational focus the keeps the engine running smoothly, while regularly looking over the horizon to what’s coming next, what to pay attention to and what to ignore, but the new CMO is figuring out how to do enough of both to increase impact on organizational growth and success.  It’s not for everyone, and becoming increasingly more digital and influential in business operations and outcomes is invigorating for many of us who are renewed in this process of evolving.

 

Marketing Science

In the old days, marketers could assert that “half of my marketing spend works, but I just don’t know which half.”   The rise of digital media, combined with the ability to measure the effectiveness of the increasing amount of digital marketing spend, means that marketers are now being held far more accountable for the results of marketing expenditures.  But it goes beyond just measuring marketing ROI.  Modern marketers need to become experts at understanding digital customer behaviors and in data mining so they can architect a customer strategy that maximizes the efficiency of how their company targets, acquires and grows customers and increases market share.  We are in the customer-driven era and the age of customer empowerment. According to Ellett, “this dramatic shift in power to the voice of the customer” means that marketing needs to become more science, and marketing needs to lead the company to “build out the capability organization-wide to be more responsive to customer voice and experience.”  He continues, “Marketers have traditionally been quite strong at persuasive communications and ideation.  The best ones have also excelled at understanding the customer mindset and leveraging agency partners to drive demand and increase influence.  The new CMO must now become as adept at analytics and data-based decision making as they have been at the more subjective art of branding and communications.” As Cooperstein states: “today, more than ever before, CMOs are being held fully accountable for the results of marketing activities.  This means we have to be more metrics oriented.  A lot more is required.  We’re seeing that working together is much better than working apart.”

Neeson, too, agrees, noting CMOs must not just “measure results, but also effectively communicate marketing’s value.”   Becoming more “scientific” can be daunting, however, having the evidence to objectively demonstrate marketing’s contribution to the business can also be very empowering.

 

Marketing Technologist

From a career path perspective, marketers traditionally have educational backgrounds rooted mostly in liberal arts, fine arts and communications, rather than science.   Some have progressed or transitioned into marketing careers from a more technical underpinning, such as computer science or engineering, especially in technology markets.   With the rapidly increasing role that technology plays in helping companies optimize their operations, engage with and convert customers, and build lifetime customer value, technology adroitness is now a mandate that all marketers can’t ignore.  According to analyst firm Gartner, by 2017, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs.  Regardless of whether this prediction comes true, marketers have no choice but to become well-versed in technology.  They need to not only understand the broad range of technologies that can help the company compete more effectively (e.g. predictive analytics, social media monitoring, marketing automation), but also how to create a technology adoption roadmap.  Except for CMOs starting out at new companies, most of us have a technology infrastructure that is a collection of capabilities and not fully capable or integrated to serve current business mandates.  So it’s now required to closely partner with CIO peers to articulate a cogent roadmap to acquiring, improving and integrating marketing technologies that help the company meet its strategic objectives.  As Ellett states,  “technology has changed the way customers interact with information and how they choose to interact with companies,” so CMOs must now drive how technology is utilized, just as they drive marketing strategy and tactics, to ensure their company can successfully engage with the more empowered, digital, and social customer.

Because of these reasons and more, there’s been no better time to be a CMO.  Sure, current-day challenges are formidable.   But as all three interviewees note, the stakes are much higher in this era of digital marketing, and marketing has an increased ability to demonstrate intrinsic value to the entire organization.  I’ll hit on this and more in the second installment, focusing especially on how this new approach is driving several things, including tighter alignment of marketing, and the expanding role that customers are playing in marketing strategies, tactics and more.


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More Stories By Grant Johnson

A dynamic, senior-level technology executive with a proven track record building businesses on a global basis. As Chief Marketing Officer for Pegasystems in Cambridge, MA Johnson is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and execution. He oversees corporate marketing, field marketing, industry marketing, product marketing, marketing programs, marketing communications, analyst and public relations, and global web strategy. Previously, Johnson was the Vice President of Marketing at Guidance Software (GUID) and Vice President of Marketing and served as an officer for FileNet Corp., a $400+ million enterprise software vendor acquired by IBM in 2006. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing for FrontBridge, an email management vendor acquired by Microsoft. Johnson led the company’s re-naming and re-launch, built the marketing team and delivered integrated marketing programs to support significant and sustained revenue growth. He has also served as Director of Marketing for Symantec, with worldwide responsibility for the Norton brand, and as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ethentica, an enterprise security vendor. Johnson received his bachelor of arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University. He has also published several articles on best practices in high tech marketing and co-authored the book, PowerBranding™

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