The CMO’s Role Changes Amid Digital Transformation

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Marketing departments have been struggling for years with digital transformation, but marketing leaders cannot afford to stand idly by while the process happens around them, Forrester Research cautions in a new report. In fact, the report identifies three steps that chief marketing officers should embrace to become more involved in the digital transformation process.

CMOs are struggling with digital transformation because they typically have the highest turnover and the shortest tenure among C-suite positions, according to the report, which cited data from the Korn Ferry Institute showing that the average CMO tenure is 4.1 years, compared to 5.1 years for chief financial officers and eight years for CEOs.

Another reason is the emergence of new roles within the C-suite, such as growth, digital, and experience. The emergence of these roles, according to the report, hinders the CMO in acting as the voice of the customer and the steward of the brand experience across the organization.

A third reason is that CMOs aren’t able to keep up with change, especially in terms of data and tech talent. According to the report, CMOs identified employee recruitment and retention as their second greatest challenge behind competing priorities.

To counteract these factors, the report suggests that CMOs need to alter their approaches to marketing. There are four key elements in relation to this, the report states.

The first is to digitize offline marketing and communication efforts, such as store, print, and out-of-home advertising, and then to apply digital-enabled measurement to them.

The second is to reevaluate the expertise of existing employees. The report notes that many organizations turn to outside agencies and consultancies to fill talent gaps and suggests that CMOs work on training and recasting existing employees to ensure that their teams are well-versed in the latest digital tactics, data techniques, and technologies.

The third is to invest in technology collaborations. The report notes that marketers increasingly rely on technology to craft experiences that are contextual, relevant, and personalized. With this in mind, it suggests that CMOs collaborate with company IT and financial leaders to make technology pilots and proofs of concept a reality.

The fourth is to put data-driven approaches at the heart of decision making, with an eye on being able to respond at the rapid pace of the digital environment.

“Before being able to act across a siloed organization, CMOs should first evolve their own marketing team. I think it requires changing the mind-set, to rethink customer journeys, and to force structural changes so that the marketing team is less organized by channels and more focused on solving customer pain points throughout the customer life cycle. It also implies blending technology, data, and creativity skills, either by recruiting fresh new digital talent or by training employees who have the right attitude of collaborating with other teams,” says Thomas Husson, vice president and principal analyst serving CMO professionals at Forrester and primary author of the report.

CMOs then need to embody the voice of the customer. To do this, they will need to view themselves as ambassadors of the customer experience. More specifically, the report suggests that CMOs act as customer advocates and systematically evaluate how decisions influence customers’ perception of the brand. Then they can turn their company’s brand values into a call to action for employees. With the idea that good employee experiences translate into good customer experiences, the report suggests working with the CEO to translate core company values into specific attributes that employees can embody. Then CMOs should work more closely with human resources and IT to help them attract and retain the digital talent they need.

“In theory, CMOs have always been the voice of the customer. In reality, too many of them have focused on advertising and communications and not so much on the delivery of the brand promise,” Husson says. “CMOs have always been in charge of customer understanding and brand strategy. What is relatively new for them is to also be in charge of brand experience, making sure that customers get what they are being offered. This is blurring the boundaries between sales and client teams. This is also increasing the role of the CMO in employee experience.”

CMOs should also look to become what the report dubs “master collaborators.” They will first need to collaborate internally to break down silos. Then they will have to force structural changes that realign the skills within their own teams. Finally, they will need to push partners to shake up the status quo. The report says that CMOs should challenge traditional agencies to adopt new pricing models, such as a shared risk/revenue approach, which can test partners’ commitment. Additionally, it suggests that CMOs have strategy and orchestration in mind when using external partners to fill talent gaps.

“When creating new offerings, CMOs and their teams have to collaborate internally with legal, compliance, product, sales, and technology teams.... Successfully implementing digital experiences requires CMOs to have both a well-defined brand promise and a cross-organizational approach. CMOs should collaborate with their IT and business counterparts to harmonize vision, objectives, and needs when selecting a strategic partner that will help orchestrate digital experiences across channels. However, because digital experience is so strategic, CMOs can’t fully outsource it: They will need to find the right balance over time between their internal teams and external agencies. A growing number of digitally savvy brands have invested internally to create in-house agencies, digital factories, and innovation labs,” Husson says. 

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