A manifesto on what it takes to do the chief marketing officer’s job well today and tomorrow

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It was 10 years ago this month that I launched a media brand (what was CMO Australia) telling the stories of local and global chief marketing officers from every walk of life. And every year, as I worked to highlight Australia’s most innovative and effective marketing leaders through the former CMO50 program, I gained a unique opportunity to reflect on what modern marketing leadership entails, who does it best, and why they’re good at it.

As I reflect on how I can continue to support the marketing leadership community with my storytelling and connection skills, it seems appropriate I also share my thoughts on another burning question: How do CMOs do their jobs well today, and how do they continue to do their jobs well tomorrow?

From the outset, I want to be clear: No one job description or right-and-tight remit fits every

#cmo. It’s one of the most fluid, shape-shifting roles in any

#csuite. What’s more, one CEO’s position on what a CMO needs to do is different from another’s. This directly impacts how much influence a marketing chief has across the organization, as well as how big the ‘M’ of


#marketing they effect can be (not to mention how many Ps they actually control).

And despite what everyone tells you, a

#b2bmarketer is not of the same ilk as a B2C marketer. They’re often judged on different KPIs and funnels, have a target-based view of their markets and prospects, work to different conversion timelines, and commonly differ in their cross-functional allies and enemies. Yes, the imperative to be more ‘customer-led’ is helping narrow this gap. But don’t be fooled – the job a marketing leader can do in these types of categories remains distinctive.

Then there’s the Australian-owned versus international brand and company dynamic to contend with if you’re in charge of the marketing function (let’s not even go there right now).

A chunk of marketing leaders aren’t sitting at the executive leadership table either. This means their ability to influence commercial outcomes and have a say in the strategic direction of a company is kneecapped at best, non-existent at worst.

Chuck in the arrival of a new social media channel every year or two, content consumption fragmentation and ever-shrinking attention spans, the 10,000-strong

#martech lumascape and trying to be friends with the every other c-suite leader and manager across an organization, and it’s no wonder the tenure of the CMO is shorter than any other on the c-suite.

Ok, so those are some of the negatives and forces often outside a marketing leader’s control.

But out of this shape shifting, evolving mix of skills and priorities, macro forces, influences and enablers comes so many opportunities for marketing leaders to really make an impact on company growth. And I use the word ‘growth’ in its fullest sense. Because ultimately it’s what the CMO’s job is all about.

It feels in many ways marketers are still writing the professional story they need if they’re going to continue being the business executives and growth contributors they can be.

Why is it that I do have some personal reflections to share around what the role of the CMO requires right now, and what is required as a CMO tomorrow, stemming from the work I’ve been doing up to now to recognise marketing leadership excellence.

It’s a role of contradictions: Right brain and left brand, art and science, magic and method, data and gut – choose your dichotomy. What I’m in no doubt of is modern marketing leaders requiring both in their roles today.

I cheekily asked many CMOs late last year to tell me what they thought the ultimate ratio of data and gut was in successful marketing leadership. Some gave me percentages; others went into great depth to explain when and where data and gut comes into the process. A few placed value on experience first; others aspire to use ever-greater levels of insight in their approaches.

The thing is, marketing isn’t one or the other. It isn’t data or gut, science or art. It’s both. These are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes, it can feel like these things are in opposition. But finding the balance in that tension is the CMO’s magic trick.

It’s a role requiring clarity. Marketers are the masters of brand narrative and CMOs need to apply this precision storytelling to their entire approach – so as business and functional leaders internally, not just in external campaigns.

The CMO’s role is one of compassion. Exhibiting compassion for both internal teams and staff, as well as for customers, is vital as a marketing chief. A willingness to explore human nature and a desire to empathize and relate is one of those intangible, soft skills the best marketers bring to the table every day.

It’s also one of curiosity. Modern marketers have to be constantly learning, have an openness to change and become champions for transformation when and where it’s needed.

This of course means there’s no way CMOs can work in isolation, so the role is also one of collaboration and

#crossfunctional influence. It’s working across an organization to not only deliver that brand campaign, but on a brand promise.

It requires a

#communitybuilding mindset. Marketing teams commonly talk about the communities and cohorts they’re targeting, but I see having a community mindset as a much broader principle. Modern CMOs have internal and external communities to deal with. From the agency village to the dev team internally and that micro-community you’re actually pitching to with your brand message, each of these communities requires distinct communication, understanding and collaboration. Having an ability to systematically think in terms of communities as well as empathize with each is critical to both external results and internal influence.

A core element of achieving this is the art of

#conversation. CMOs must be able to encourage dialogue internally and externally, again in the name of cross-functional connection and growth. More recently, we’ve seen marketing leaders leading the conversation on

#diversity and inclusion as well as #sustainability. I expect to see more of it, as I believe these are both fundamental to the way brands are realized.

Hence why the role of CMO also requires

#conviction. Every year, I’ve seen marketing leaders raising the bar on how they prove marketing’s worth, speaking not just in the language of campaign outcomes but also customer-centric measures such as NPS, along with more growth. The best also connect scoring around brand health and market share to sales, commercial objectives and profit improvements.

But sometimes marketing has to make a choice and take a relatively blind leap of faith. That takes courage and conviction in your decisions, your experiences and your ability to take action and insight.

Which is why I still believe the CMO role takes incredible creativity. Marketers are consummate professionals when it comes to realising creative ideas and taking them to market through campaigns. But I mean


#creativity in every sense of the word – inventiveness, curiosity, and the culmination of all facets of the CMO role.

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