The future of Chief Marketing Officers and leadership


Last week I attended a breakfast organized by IBM for a small group of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and influencers, hosted by its Australian CMO Mark Willson.

IBM had recently launched its global CMO study, showing what CMOs are thinking about marketing today and in the future. At the breakfast it gave us a sneak preview of the results from the Australian respondents to the study.

We were shown four infographics that highlighted the results as a starting point for a robust breakfast conversation. It was a very interesting and useful conversation; I thought I’d highlight just two of the many issues we discussed.

CMO Leadership in creating social organizations
Rather than CMOs defining their role too narrowly, this data seems to suggest that CMOs are not given the breadth of influence that they need to perform their function (or that they are ineffective in asserting their influence). If only 81% of CMOs feel they have significant influence over promotion, there is a real problem, let alone the limited impact on other key facets of marketing.

This leads to the topic of ‘social business’, of how companies transform themselves to become true social organizations that are able to engage well in a world we are experiencing of open, swift communication among and between customers and staff. This shift is not just about how marketers and customer service staff engage externally, but requires changes across the organization. CMOs need to be responsible for making inward communication to the organization easier and more impactful, just as much as they need to enhance outwards communication.

I believe these shifts must be led by the CEO. However CMOs have a very important role to play in building human engagement with customers, and must push that agenda forward if it is not already well under way in the organization. In order to represent the company well externally, their responsibilities include transforming the entire organization, working with their C-level peers.

You cannot delegate understanding of social media and emerging technologies
Clearly leadership skills will be critical for CMOs. As suggested above, that must be applied to transformation across the organization. Those CMOs who lead only within the traditionally recognized domains of marketing and communications are abrogating their responsibilities.

There are a few surprises in what CMOs do not rank as important. In theory social media ‘expertise’ can be delegated to specialists, which is probably the reasoning behind this being ranked very low. Despite Australian consumers having one of the highest usage of social media in the world, Australian CMOs placed this as a significantly lower priority than their global peers. The reality is that it is almost impossible to understand social media, and to lead the broader organizational change required to use it to create value for the organization, without significant personal engagement.

Technology savviness is again, in theory, something that can be delegated to others. However the issue is not knowing how to execute technology-based marketing initiatives. It is understanding the potential applications and value of technology in marketing, which are often far from linear extensions of what they have been in the past. The low rating of finance skills seems to be a significant oversight, given the increased corporate emphasis on measurability and ROI in marketing.