Debating the Role of the CMO: Watching a Transition in Action
Marketing Content Strategy

Debating the Role of the CMO: Watching a Transition in Action

6 Minute Read

Seeking clarity on the performance results of a recently implemented in-store clienteling solution, a retail executive turns to the company’s CIO. But the CIO is unsure where to start, and he turns to the CMO, who has worked with IT to deploy the solution and has had a more hands-on role in its use.

This brief exchange seems small—in fact, other executives in the room may not even have realized it occurred. But what happens between the CIO and CMO is actually representative of the changing role of the CMO. Though CMOs were once exclusively focused on marketing initiatives for the company, the evolution of the field has brought the chief marketing officer into a close working proximity with technology and its associated responsibilities.

Tech isn’t the extent of these changes, either. CMOs are also faced with new expectations and pressures from executive leadership, including a focus on metrics falling outside the typical purview of a CMO’s responsibilities. These individual forces are reshaping the role of CMOs in enterprise organizations all around the world, and not everyone is clear on the best direction. Meanwhile, the ever-increasing demands on a company’s marketing campaigns aren’t helping make the CMO’s job any easier.

How should today’s CMOs approach their job, and how can they lead marketing transformation while continuing to serve this critical role? It helps to understand how and why the CMO position is changing.

Blurring Lines Between Marketing and IT

Up until recently, technology didn’t have much of a role in marketing, other than when campaigns were pushed through digital channels. Trade shows, events, direct mailings, TV ads: all of these could be effectively managed by a CMO with little to no technology involved.

That is no longer the case. Marketing technologies have exploded in recent years. Think about automation tools, data analytics, CRM, social listening platforms, SEO, location-based marketing—you get the idea. There is now technology to serve virtually every aspect of today’s brand marketing demands.

This chart of various marketing technologies (and the brands behind them) provides a dizzying overview of how technology is serving marketers today.

MarTech Landscape

So yes, marketing and technology are inextricably intertwined. If you’re a marketer who doesn’t like technology, you’re in the wrong business. The two domains have merged, and they’re never going back.

The CMO is not the CIO, and it would be wrong to assign this role oversight of other IT operations. There are plenty of technological processes, departments, and teams that the CMO has no business affecting. But where marketing technology is concerned, these two positions will need to take a collaborative approach to innovation. The CIO will need to help the CMO understand the underlying technology, as well as how to appropriately implement it. The CIO will need to delegate his own team members to assist in these transitions and tasks.

A chief marketing officer needs to understand the technologies driving the company’s marketing strategy. This will take time to master. In addition to assistance from the CIO, the CMO may want to consider various trainings, tutorials, and consultations that can get them up to speed on the technological implications of their marketing strategy. The learning curve will depend on the CMO’s baseline understanding of tech, but there are no shortcuts; if you’re a CMO or an aspiring CMO, tech is now a major part of your job responsibilities.

Money Matters More Than Ever

Digital marketing has created new opportunities and efficiencies that make marketing campaigns more valuable than ever. A quick look shows that the influence of social media, the ROI of retargeted ads, and the lead generation performance of personalized content have far outpaced the performance of traditional marketing campaigns of yesteryear.

This is good and bad for the CMO. On the plus side, these strong results have compelled businesses to increase their marketing budgets. And with performance figures like they’ve never seen before, many are satisfied by what they’re getting in return. But as Marketing Insider Group points out, executive leadership has gotten greedy. Now that they’ve witnessed the power of digital marketing, they’re applying more pressure to get tangible results.

Specifically, they expect marketing to play a more direct role in driving profits and bottom-line growth. It’s not just about positive campaign ROI anymore, and CMOs need to be fattening the company’s wallet. VentureBeat notes that 70 percent of CEOs now expect CMOs to lead revenue growth.

That’s a big new task to juggle, but it isn’t one that should strike fear in the hearts of CMOs. With the impact of marketing campaigns more tangible than ever, CMOs simply have to run the same types of campaigns as they have in the past while making sure revenue growth is reflected in their KPIs. The CMO shouldn’t guide marketers away from building customer-centric campaigns and strategies, but everyone involved in campaign and content creation should understand that revenue growth will be how their performance is measured.

Fortunately, successful marketing is inherently beneficial to a company’s bottom-line growth. An increased emphasis on driving revenue may be a new external pressure for CMOs to wrestle with, but it should only have a minor impact on their day-to-day responsibilities—assuming these marketing campaigns are performing as expected.

A man, seen in profile, holds a briefcase and newspaper in front of a desk

Image attribution: Olu Eletu

Never Losing Sight of the Customer Experience

Technology isn’t just changing the role of the CMO. It has also changed the customer experience. Shoppers use their smartphones constantly in retail stores; personalization is quickly becoming an expectation, rather than luxury; and mobile apps have found a use in almost every type of industry.

As these changes take place all around the CMO, he can’t be distracted from crafting and maintaining an excellent customer experience. This is a bit of a moving target, since technology constantly changes what the ideal experience looks like, and it’s yet another reason why CMOs must be comfortable with and regularly using marketing technologies. Data analysis is key to understanding these complex consumer behaviors, particularly as they move across multiple touchpoints. Marketing automation, CRM, and other technologies can help you manage your customer-centric marketing on multiple fronts, keeping up with changing consumer demands faster than any one person can.

By leveraging data pulled from new acquisition channels, CMOs can leverage these new technologies to understand the customer better than ever before. This, in turn, improves the shape and strategy of the brand’s marketing campaigns. As Diginomica points out, this data-driven understanding of the customer will serve perhaps the CMO’s most vital role: representing the psychology of the consumer to the executive team.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? If it’s any consolation, technology has transformed many traditional roles within the enterprise organization. The role of the CMO is growing, but marketing transformation through technology was already disrupting this role before CEOs exerted new pressures.

These new responsibilities can’t overshadow the core purpose of a CMO, which is to serve the customer with a relevant marketing strategy. Technology may have complicated this position, but for a tech-savvy CMO who understands automation and the value of customer data, it can also be the solution.

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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