Are Chief Marketing Officers the New Chief Growth Officers?

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In a digitally disrupted market, where traditional revenue sources are becoming more elusive, business leaders are dividing their growth strategies into two areas—incremental growth from their current portfolio through traditional approaches, and “disruptive growth” opportunities that push well beyond today’s boundaries. With 44 percent of CEOs globally citing “disruptive growth” as being very important to their overall growth strategy, and half (50 percent) looking to chief marketing officers to drive the disruptive growth agenda, CMOs could presume they are best suited to drive the disruptive growth agenda. However, according to recent research, it’s not necessarily theirs for the taking. The C-level race to becoming the chief growth officer has begun.

As front office functions continue to converge and more C-suite leaders enter the mix—from chief sales officers to chief digital officers, chief experience officers to chief strategy officers—CEOs have given the entire C-suite some level of responsibility for disruptive growth, yet no one is fully accountable. Today, 90 percent of companies are in this position, with three or more C-suite leaders “responsible” for disruptive growth.

Yet, though it may not be explicitly said in everyday interactions, more than a third (37 percent) of CEOs say that CMOs are first on the firing line if growth targets are not met. Despite diluted accountability throughout the C-suite, our research highlights that CMOs are clearly in the hot seat, but the majority may not know it.

Given that CMOs fill a key role in the end-to-end customer experience and typically have control of many of the digital levers that drive disruptive growth, CMOs have a huge opportunity to actively drive the disruptive growth and be rewarded for it. But many traditional leaders, like the chief sales officer and the “newer” C-level roles, such as chief data officer, chief experience officer, and chief digital officer, could be held equally accountable. It’s imperative that CMOs with a growth mind-set step up to lead as the chief growth officer—and become accountable for the disruptive growth agenda that is fragmented today.


CEOs see CMOs as the primary drivers of disruptive growth (50 percent), closely followed by chief strategy officers (49 percent) and chief sales officers (38 percent). The majority of CMOs (96 percent) also recognize the importance of disruptive growth to revenue potential, and another 75 percent believe they have a great deal of control over the disruptive growth levers in their company. But many CMOs are not currently in a position to drive disruptive growth due to mind-set and time.

Only 30 percent of CMOs believe that they are cutting-edge marketing innovators, and a little over a third (37 percent) of their time is currently spent on innovation. Sixty percent spend the majority of their time on traditional marketing initiatives, such as maintaining brand image and improving customer experience and loyalty. While evidently important, over half (54 percent) feel that a large portion of their marketing budget is being wasted and not delivering the results the business expects.

CMOs can take a greater role by actively driving the disruptive growth agenda and generating new value for the business. Such initiatives include developing ecosystems with nontraditional players, launching platforms that elevate current products into expanded service models for customers, and increasing revenue through next-generation connected data monetization—all of which CMOs are well positioned to do.


Never has there been a better time for CMOs to reposition themselves by taking control of the disruptive growth agenda. Such initiatives are often the most creative, have the biggest revenue potential, and command strong leadership. CMOs are well positioned to do so due to their experience as brand guardians, which will help enable them to intuitively navigate new opportunities internally and externally and identify new areas of growth.

Here’s how CMOs can reach their potential and move into a disruptive growth role:

Open the door. The executive who can best articulate a disruptive growth strategy will be the de facto “chief growth officer.” As many companies look to create this position, the CMO should be the one to step forward to create the platforms that will catapult his company forward into new business opportunities.

Make priorities disruptive. While traditional marketing activities continue to be important, more focus can be afforded to driving disruptive growth initiatives that present higher revenue growth potential. Initiatives include launching new business models, developing new partnerships, and increasing revenues from data monetization.

Accept clear responsibility for disruptive growth. Establish an “Office of Disruptive Growth.” Marketing then becomes the epicenter of disruptive growth that moves the organization to own a greater share of each customer, as well as fostering new customers.

Pay more attention to the evolving competitor landscape. Who your competitors were yesterday are not who they are today. Only 43 percent of CMOs believe that defending their organization against new competitors that have not traditionally been part of their industry is a priority. Organizations can avoid being disrupted, but first they have to be able to see where the disruption will come from.

Enter a new market. Only 30 percent of CMOs say their organization is moving into a different industry outside their traditional one. Organizations that want to get ahead need to diversify their offerings and appeal to new audiences. CMOs have the opportunity to guide that process and identify the best fit.

CMOs are now at an inflection point. They have the clear opportunity to step up to the role of chief growth officer. So far, most have missed the opportunity, resulting in other C-level executives moving to the front of the line for the role. Yes, the position is still ripe for the taking, but opportunities such as this one do have a shelf life. With swift, sure action, CMOs can capitalize on their window of opportunity.

Robert Wollan is senior managing director of advanced customer strategy at Accenture Strategy.

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