It’s High Time for a CMO Rebrand

The rising tension between CMOs and other C-suite roles as they grapple with rapid marketing demands and slower technology implementation timelines.
Thursday, May 23, 2024

Recent news that UPS and Etsy parted ways with their CMOs and weren't going to replace them caused eyebrows to raise across the industry. And when Professor Scott Galloway declared that "CMOs are dead in 18 months or less," our chins hit the floor! And all of this was before Starbucks recently dropped its CMO role.

This article was originally published in ANA Industry Insights report.

For years now, there have been reports that CMOs are dropping like flies. That news was tempered by the fact that while CMO tenure has continued to fall, many of those CMOs are moving on to better jobs.

But something feels different this time. As CMOs are leaving their jobs, they aren't being replaced.

A recent Gartner survey revealed that 55 percent of business leaders "feel marketing has an inflated view of its importance." That's sobering.

Martech is a big reason for this loss of credibility. Today, brands must provide meaningful personalized experiences to customers. That requires tech. The average enterprise spends 30 percent of their budget on martech, according to this study. For the average enterprise, that's $15 million annually. For large brands, it could easily be north of nine figures.

Yet, when asked what percentage of their martech capability they're actually using, marketers said 33 percent in 2023 — down from 58 percent in 2020, according to Gartner.

"When asked what percentage of their martech capability they're actually using, marketers said 33%t in 2023 — down from 58% in 2020."

This is a major source of vulnerability for CMOs who don't understand tech. AI is going to make this situation even more tenuous. CMOs who do get it also suffer a reputation hit from guilt by association.

Not surprisingly, in 2023, there was a 27 percent decrease in the ownership of new martech by CMOs, Gartner found. That's a poor solution: shifting ownership of martech to IT isn't going to make your marketing better.

Nor will it make CFOs happier.

I recently spoke with author, CMO and board member, Shiv Singh, at an industry dinner in San Francisco. He described a "weird tension" between CMOs and CTOs/CIOs who operate on three-year timelines for implementing tech.

"CMOs feel urgency to fix things and show impact quickly," Singh explained, "while the CTOs/CIOs want to take a slower, more methodical technology implementation approach. This difference in timelines and urgency creates tension between the CMO and CTO/CIO roles."

Marketing needs a rebrand. And sometimes a rebrand includes a name change. There's no clear successor when CMO roles disappear. Chief operating officers, chief growth officers and chief business officers have all been given the reins. Regardless of what job title the human leading marketing has, someone will lead it.

Chief whatever officers will need to speak the language of the business to succeed. If you connect the dots between what marketing you do, how you measure it, and the goals of the business, you'll earn the confidence of your colleagues in the C-Suite.

A savvy martech strategy should:

  • Be driven by empathy. Insight remains the foundation of effective marketing. Map your customers' journey to eliminate friction and design a better experience. You'll have a clear vision into the best technology to realize it.
  • Be empowered by data. Data has to be clean and well-structured to engineer the execution of your strategy and harness the power of AI to drive differentiation.
  • Be activated by operations. Make usability part of your evaluation. If the software you buy is too difficult for your team to use, they won't use it.
  • Be accelerated by creativity. Being data-driven isn't just plumbing. Strong creative is a force multiplier to drive results.

In reality, you probably already have a martech stack. Audit it to ensure you have what you need to bring your strategy to life — and eliminate the albatross of tech debt dragging your credibility down.

Marketing is more important than ever. As more and more commerce is driven by digital, marketing doesn't just drive squishy metrics like awareness or purchase intent. It drives revenue directly. Good marketers know that those squishy metrics are a critical step in the journey to that revenue.

Maybe the CMO role does need a name change, maybe it doesn't. But it certainly needs a rebrand to reshape the attitudes and perceptions of what "marketing" means.

About the author
Adam Kleinberg

Adam Kleinberg is CEO and and a founding partner of Traction. He has written over 75 articles in publications like AdAge, Adweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Mashable and Digiday.

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