Are CMOs Obsolete?
Aspiring marketing leaders have always sought out the title of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Yet more and more large companies are eliminating the position. What is the reason for the reduction in force, are CMOs obsolete in today’s business world?
The question was fueled by articles from AdExchanger and AdAge. AdExchanger mentions, “Coca-Cola scrapped its global CMO role late last year, shifting the responsibilities to Chief Growth Officer Francisco Crespo, and to marketers for specific brands or regions. Unilever CMO Keith Weed is stepping down this year, with no replacement in sight. And Johnson & Johnson’s first-ever global CMO Alison Lewis departed last month, as the company retires the position.”
AdAge highlights, “Chief marketing officers, who have among the shortest tenures in the C-suite, are used to pressure. But now their very existence is coming under threat. Several big-name companies have recently done away with the CMO position altogether—including Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Lyft, Beam Suntory, Taco Bell and Hyatt Hotels, accelerating a trend that began a few years ago.”
Today’s media landscape is far different than it was even a decade ago. During the 20th century the power of brand messaging was centralized with brands themselves. Getting the story just right is how companies like Procter and Gamble built trust and gained market share with the burgeoning American middle class. New brands followed similar tactics through the turn of the century.
Everything changed with the internet and the emergence of social media platforms. The power of brand messaging is no longer the sole domain of the brand. Now it is owned as much by consumers as it is by the brand. Compounding this change, traditional media channels like TV, radio, and print have become more fractured and less relevant with the advent of new digital channels.
According to Larry Thomas, managing director of Customer Insights and Growth at Accenture, “the era of the centralized command and control CMO is going away.” But this doesn’t necessarily mean the responsibilities of the CMO are going away. With communication now a two-way conversation with consumers the skills required of marketing executives are very different.
As the bard wrote, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So, while the name may be changing in some organizations, the responsibilities of the CMO are not becoming obsolete. Evan Sharp of Russell Reynolds mentions, “a growing groundswell to move away from the CMO moniker to reflect the new ways companies are reaching customers, including with data-driven personalized communication.”
As you would expect, the changes at each company have their own reasons, as Edward Nevraumont of Marketing BS points out. He looks at some specific examples and calls out that most of the time the title has changed (Chief Growth Officer or Chief Commercial Officer) while the role remains.
Mr. Nevraumont points out something that most articles don’t mention, the lack of clarity around marketing’s responsibilities, “In many cases, the position encompasses an unwieldy jumble of responsibilities, including: creative, branding, communications, public relations, customer acquisition, analytics, market research, content, driving brand awareness, retention, agency management, and digital technologies.” And finding one person who has all of these skills in addition to successful leadership capabilities is nearly impossible.
The change is actually good news for marketers. It’s clear that the new set of skills required for the traditional CMO role is in demand, and the need for people to step up has never been greater. If you’re looking to fill a marketing executive level role or have questions on what the “CMO” role should look like at your company, send us a note.