CMOs: the new gatekeepers for companies going digital

Home Blends & Trends 4 April 2018

What is Tesla? A car manufacturer? A pioneer in renewable energy? A tech company? It’s a mix of all three, but it’s also a great example of the way companies are changing in the digital era, and of the growing importance of marketing.

Designed like software, produced like a smartphone, and marketed like a luxury product, every Tesla vehicle is a reflection of the disruption that digitisation has brought to a product’s life cycle. And marketing, prominent in Elon Musk’s group, is more affected by this revolution than any other department in a company. The old dependables of decades past, the famous 4 Ps, no longer hold true. Product? Today’s products are constantly evolving, mixing technology and service. Promotion? Yesterday’s media is being pushed aside by influencer network and one-to-one and programmatic communication. Price? Amazon adjusts its prices 3 to 4 million times a day. Place? Distribution is now omnichannel and phygital, leading to new circuits that call into question traditional business models and value chains.

Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are facing a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment (VUCA), while everything that they thought they knew is being pulled from beneath their feet. To keep their balance, they must develop new skills: fully embrace technology, get familiar with new formats, get acquainted with analytics concepts, understand all challenges and limitations of other departments. Marketers must surround themselves with more suppliers and create interdisciplinary teams. These teams will give rise to newly-created roles in acquisition, natural referencing ( SEO), data science, content management, and community management, to name a few. Marketers are now fully accountable, as the smallest details of their actions can now be measured. Lastly, they must reconcile the increasingly analytical and rational aspects of their jobs with the traditional creativity and intuition.

This long list of demands is such that competent profiles are few and far between, which has led to a new generation of men and women being primed for the position. These new profiles often break with the old “royal paths” of marketing. Most of these new candidates were online from the first days of their professional lives and are thus the first “digital executives,” able not only to master all dimensions of a marketing role but also to seize opportunities afforded by the privileged position of their roles in the face of today’s upheavals.

In direct contact with the digital environment, CMOs are both observers, keenly aware of trends, and essential actors, operating via a brand platform that they themselves have defined. From these interactions, CMOs craft a unique expertise in both fundamental sides of a digital company: the client, at the heart of a strategy now determined by demand; and the data, which becomes the cement holding all functions together. CMOs hold the keys to understanding this new world, to interacting with it and benefitting from it, which naturally gives them a central role in the organisation. The CMO, in combination with the people-centric Director of Human Resources, and the tech-focused Chief Information Officer together create a trinity at the crux of the digital transformation. We’ve seen that the biggest names in digital consulting are currently consolidating skills, a testament to this new power: along with strategy and technology, the marketing director is becoming a key entry point.

The question thus becomes: how will the CMO use this new power position? Should CMOs use their expertise to educate and support their peers in order to facilitate the company’s transformation? Or would this step on others’ toes, creating confusion and wasting precious energy? With this in mind, it is sometimes preferable to name a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) as a precaution. Because digital is inherently interdisciplinary, it can be deemed best to name a neutral person to the job, someone judged capable of apprehending the scale and speed of changes. However, when faced with very high stakes, CMOs can still regain control thanks to their incomparable mastery of the digital ecosystem, their strategic vision, their intimate knowledge of the company’s inner workings via studying data and analytics, the specific skill set of their teams, and their invaluable capacity to experiment. Other executives have everything to gain from being implicated in their own company’s transformation, but CMOs must still convince their peers that they are trustworthy allies. Without a doubt, peers will be quick to remind CMOs of Tesla’s difficulties in producing the Model 3. In a digital company, marketing can do a lot… But it can’t do everything.

This article was originally published on mind and translated from French by Niamh Cloughley.

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