The CMO Isn’t Dead: Mastering the Skills of the Modern Marketing Leader

By Andrew Wheeler on April 23, 2024

Across industries and business models, marketing is essential to surviving and thriving. So why the recent flurry of headlines pronouncing the death of the CMO?

As usual, the truth is more nuanced than the headlines suggest. In reality, the CMO role is evolving, as it should, and companies are restructuring, as they do. But marketing's core mission—being the expert in the customer and evolving how to build brand preference and loyalty—remains vital.

Where the headlines get it wrong

Professor Scott Galloway paints a picture of "Mad Men" CMOs who hang their hats on industry awards and cling to big advertising budgets. Thankfully, I know very few CMOs who fit this description. He goes on to argue that product and supply chain innovation should be the focus, with the CMO evolving into "the COO or SVP of supply chain."

While I agree with his argument for meaningful innovation, this shouldn't overshadow the essential work CMOs do to ensure their brands and products hold a significant position in the hearts and minds of customers. If anything, the declining effectiveness of traditional media and the sheer volume of channels, content experiences, and platforms available for marketing demands more dedicated oversight from savvy marketing leaders with a seat in the boardroom.

Others, like Phil Wahba, in this Fortune article, predict that automation will render CMOs obsolete. Ironically, I've found the opposite to be true. Technology is a powerful tool, but overreliance on automation can actually lead to poorly-executed personalization and an abundance of irrelevant data being used to inform decision-making. In fact, two-thirds of martech leaders say their tech stack takes time away from their key responsibilities, according to Gartner.

Skilled CMOs are at the forefront of the application of tech and data science, ensuring the right balance of tech and human expertise across their organizations and that data is being used to answer the right business questions.

The future belongs to a new breed of CMO, a strategic leader who blends foundational brand building with a deep understanding of data, customer experience, and even product development to excel at four business-critical jobs:

Job #1: Building a Connected Marketing Enterprise

The digital age has brought about a crucial change in how customers engage with brands. Fragmented marketing efforts, with teams working in channel-oriented silos, can result in a frustrating and ultimately ineffective brand experience for the customer.

A connected marketing engine and centralized view of customer data, led by the CMO, address this issue. By promoting collaboration and information sharing across all customer-facing teams — marketing, sales, product, and even customer service — the CMO ensures that a unified brand message resonates throughout the customer experience, tailored and personalized to fit where and how it's needed.

The modern CMO:

  • Spearheads a unified content strategy: Break down silos and establish clear guidelines and a cohesive narrative that resonates across all channels. Establish and communicate clear editorial style and voice guidelines and create a centralized content hub where all brand assets can be stored, managed, and shared.

  • Invests in collaborative tools and processes: Foster seamless content creation and distribution by implementing collaborative tools that allow teams to work together in real-time.

  • Prioritizes a consistent brand experience: Use real-time insights to inform content creation across all channels, ensuring messaging aligns with customer needs and expectations at every touchpoint—with no customer 'dead ends'.

Job #2: Being the Customer Expert and Advocate

Empowered customers demand more relevance from the brands they interact with. Gone are the days of relying solely on broad demographics to segment customers and target messaging. Successful CMOs are effectively becoming customer ethnographers.

Today's CMO combines the power of data analytics with a real-world understanding of customer needs, wants, and pain points to craft brand experiences that resonate more deeply.

The modern CMO:

  • Focuses on customer insights, not just data points: Analytics are powerful, but cannot tell the whole story. Go beyond demographics and discover customer behavior, motivations, and pain points. Conduct surveys, host focus groups, and utilize customer service interactions to gather real-world insights.

  • Champions the customer: Armed with a deep, first-hand understanding of your audience, position yourself as a customer advocate within your organization. Translate customer needs into actionable insights that will influence product development, brand strategy, and communication efforts.

  • Crafts messaging that resonates: Understand what motivates your customers to design experiences that meet their needs and aspirations, not just to facilitate transactions.

Job #3: Balancing the Long Game with Immediate Impact

CEOs often prioritize immediate sales and growth, overlooking the importance of long-term brand building. However, a strong brand is crucial for sustained success, fostering trust and market differentiation.

The CMO who excels at strategically reconciling brand and performance marketing efforts, ensures the company achieves its immediate goals without sacrificing the long-term brand health that fuels sustained growth and future success.

The modern CMO:

  • Blends brand and performance marketing: Strengthen the synergy between your brand and performance marketing disciplines to create a marketing flywheel that uses real-time performance insights to fuel long-term branding efforts and vice versa.
  • Shapes the narrative around the value of marketing: Be an articulate storyteller. Demonstrate the value marketing brings through immediate sales figures and operational and brand value stories. That includes highlighting how marketing helps the brand maintain its market position and enables the business to operate faster, smoother, or more efficiently.

  • Quantifies the impact of marketing investments: Use data to showcase how marketing investments have directly contributed to business growth or transformation, including highlighting the effect on brand awareness, customer acquisition costs, and lifetime value.

Job # 4: Embracing Disruption and Leading Innovation

New content distribution channels are emerging at breakneck speed, and customer expectations evolve just as quickly. For marketers to stay ahead of the curve, they need a leader who isn't afraid to depart from the status quo and embrace innovation.

The CMO, positioned at the forefront of customer engagement, is ideally placed to identify trends, and translate them into innovative, actionable strategies.

The modern CMO:

  • Keeps pace with the ever-changing landscape: Adapt and explore new channels or risk missing out on crucial opportunities to connect with your target audience. Be agile and adaptable, embracing new content platforms and storytelling mediums while keeping your core audience at the forefront.

  • Unlocks the potential of new technologies: The rise of Generative AI (GenAI) presents exciting possibilities for content creation and marketing. Develop a GenAI implementation plan with clear goals (like boosting content output) and dedicate resources to train your team. Start small if you're nervous about the risks associated with GenAI content creation. You can leverage tools like ATOMM™ and Accelerator360 to repurpose high-performing existing content for new channels, create briefs for SEO-optimized content, and identify qualified writing talent in minutes.

  • Leads the way in responsible GenAI use: Develop clear policies on responsible AI use in marketing, including educating stakeholders on the benefits and potential risks. Put policies in place to safeguard your brand's reputation while empowering your team to leverage GenAI tools for strategic marketing.

The "death of the CMO" narrative distracts from the real issues: Are marketing leaders effective? Are they driving growth?

The future belongs to leaders who can bridge the gap between brand and performance, demonstrating the measurable impact marketing has on business growth.

Are you ready to redefine the role of the CMO for a new era? I'm here to help.


Andrew Wheeler

Andrew C. Wheeler is the Chief Executive Officer of Skyword.