From chief marketing officer to chief customer officer: the new role of the CMO

Chief marketing officers are becoming an endangered species: in many companies they are either being axed or renamed. In order to hold their ground, CMOs must take on a new role and develop a new understanding of themselves.

In the opinion of Paige O’Neill, CMO of Sitecore, the role of a chief marketing officer today is to be a chief customer officer.
© Koelnmesse GmbH / Max Hampel

Have traditional chief marketing officers had their day?

They have become a rare sighting at the top levels of well-known companies. In the era of digital transformation, the focus and therefore the job requirements placed on a CMO have changed quickly but also permanently. The traditional skills of a chief marketing officer are no longer in demand. Branding and image building based on campaigns, content marketing, social media marketing and influencer marketing as core competencies are becoming less and less important because their economic success is hard to measure as a verifiable impact on sales.

Digitalization brings two main aspects for the field of marketing:

  • The need for the radical orientation toward KPIs and the measurement of success based on them
  • The fast pace and fragmentation of the marketing and media world and of communication channels and strategies

Some companies are only just warming to the idea of expanding their range of marketing channels to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and have thus already missed out on the Snapchat and TikTok trend. This example demonstrates the speed of the digital transformation and the transitory nature of trends, making it difficult for many organizations to keep up. The classic “target group” started riding other waves long before the message even had a chance of reaching it.

Famous examples include Spotify, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Uber, and also Coca-Cola briefly, which all removed the position of chief marketing officer without much warning. If the role is to survive, it has to be reinvented. Advertising as an end in itself is no longer what’s needed; an orientation toward hard figures is now the reality. Sales and profits have to add up. The key to solving the problem is what caused it in the first place – digitalization.

CMOs in today’s world: chiefs of big data?

Strong communication skills are no longer enough. To convince discerning CFOs of the need to invest in marketing activities, one thing is required above all: facts based on reliable data that proves the effectiveness of measures.

For this purpose, you need suitable analytical tools and as much data as possible to obtain information on:

  • Social demographics
  • Brand relationship
  • User experience
  • Media usage habits
  • Information acquisition behavior
  • Buying behavior
  • Touchpoints influencing buying behavior

The objective of working with big data must be to define suitable points of contact with the brand and create a personalized customer journey. Predictions can be derived by measuring the behavior of potential and existing customers. This means that expectations and decisions can be calculated, predicted, and influenced.

Becoming a chief customer officer to stay a chief marketing officer

Merely viewing a chief marketing officer as the person responsible for advertising doesn’t go far enough as it is. After all, according to its original definition, marketing isn’t just there to make products or services appealing, but rather should be understood as a holistic concept of a market-oriented corporate management approach.

A chief marketing officer’s task is to ensure that the entire company is strategically and integrally oriented toward the needs and wishes of its existing and potential customers and aligns its range of products and services accordingly.

The focus is therefore on the customer, in other words, radical customer centricity and identifying customer needs. A CMO is responsible for mastering the change process, which involves moving away from product centricity and toward user centricity and a user-centric organization within the company. In this regard, the creation of a UX that generates added value also falls within the scope of duties. CMOs must therefore take the entire customer journey into account in order to align everything with the customer:

  • Product topics
  • Sales topics
  • Service topics

There are various methods that can be used for this in practice, for example:

  • Creating digital touchpoints
  • Continuously measuring and optimizing existing touchpoints
  • Increasing the referral and recommendation rate
  • Establishing new transaction-based business models
  • Involving the customer in the development process of new products (e.g. in line with the human-centered design approach or design thinking approach)

Increasing importance of chief marketing officers with a new understanding of marketing

On the Congress Stage at DMEXCO 2019, the following experts talked to host Florian Haller on September 11, 2019, about the challenge of redefining the role of CMO in light of technical advancements such as VR, AI, voice, big data, and the growing focus on data in marketing as a result:

  • Gisele Musa Gomes Papenfuss, Global Director Branding & Activation at Metro
  • Paige O’Neill, CMO of Sitecore
  • Marco Raab, CMO of Escada
  • Hubert Wieser, Director Central Region at Nestlé Purina PetCare

In the video, you can hear how the panelists say technical changes are responsible for the shift in understanding of the position of chief marketing officer. Key questions addressed by the panelists include:

  • Does the job description of a “chief marketing officer” need to be redefined?
  • What advanced qualifications will a chief marketing officer need to have in the future?
  • Will there even be any room left for creativity?

Among others, the following quote from Paige O’Neill, CMO of Sitecore, highlights that a chief marketing officer can only survive if they turn into a CCO, i.e. a chief customer officer. In her opinion, the role will continue to evolve and exist for a long time to come:

“I think the customer’s voice is now dictating how organizations are deciding what’s important. (…) I know that my team spends a lot more time now understanding how our customers are trying to interact with us, on how we are doing in those interactions. And that sets our priorities accordingly, trying to address the expectations that we know our customers have and putting them really in the center of our strategies.”

Paige O’Neill, CMO of Sitecore

By making radical user centricity the focus of marketing actions, the chief marketing officer will play a central role in creating added value within a company and will therefore be indispensable.