The CMO’s role has hit peak disruption — here’s what you can do about it

"Marketing often feels like an impossible job", according to Dave Anderson, vice president of global marketing at Dynatrace, a Boston-based software company. He explains: "We are required to create miracles in data science. Measure a brand, identify lead sources, create strategies to attract new prospects and retain existing ones. Expectations and pressure to continually innovate grow with each passing day."

Welcome to the world of the marketer today where rules have changed. New technology is endless and - just when you've mastered algorithmic media buying - artificial intelligence arrives to shake up the scene once again.

"This is peak disruption for CMOs," says Melody Bartlett, former editor of The Marketer magazine. "Everything about the job is changing. Some of the top CMOs I talk to admit being stressed by it all. And no surprise! You've got to ask whether it's realistic for the same person to have the soft skills needed to shape the customer experience and also be able to run data analytics on a Hadoop cluster. Who are these superheroes?"

An Accenture study conducted in partnership with Forrester Research reveals that only 7 percent of marketers believe their customer experience (CX) is exceeding customer expectations. A quarter admit their CX is under-par. A third say they don't have the right technology or processes in place. And it's a lonely job at times: half say they lack senior support.

The pressure means the CMO is facing an existential threat.

Glen Hartman, managing director of Accenture Interactive North America, says, "CMOs are asking not only 'how do I stay relevant to the customer and deliver the right messages?', but 'how do I stay relevant to my organization?' The CMO will come to us and say, 'There are all these new C titles in my office'. The chief digital officer, chief experience officer, chief customer officer, chief design officer. That's code for the CEO being really, really upset that the CMO can't figure this out."

So what is the route back to sanity? The solution is to identify the main changes in the role of the CMO. Then strategies can be put in place.

Key CMO changes

The major changes can be grouped into four categories:

1. Empowered customers

Marketing is changing because customers are changing. They feel a sense of ownership of brands. And that ownership brings higher demands.

The popularity of home digital assistants is a great illustration. Google Home and Amazon Alexa offer voice control of the domestic environment on aspects including music, heating, and shopping lists. Consumers want all their favourite apps and services to be integrated. And firms are only happy to respond — Ford has launched Sync to connect in-car infotainment systems to Alexa and Philips Hue light bulbs offer integration with a number of voice platforms.

The pinnacle of brand engagement for empowered consumers is Living Services. Living Services are sophisticated, contextually-aware digital services designed to anticipate and respond to customer needs. They build a profile of individual users by constantly learning and aggregating data from various touchpoints and interactions. Think of bank accounts offering pro-active investment advice or a shopping service that tailors a grocery basket to meet health goals.

A report by Design and Innovation firm Fjord explains, "Dynamic services are designed to adapt, evolve and pivot around customer experience rather than around visual brand consistency or product sales. They wilfully connect a consumer with other brands that may be convenient to the customer. They do not attempt to force consumers to use a full stack of service options." The customer is shaping Living Services, even without being aware of it.

This means the CMO has to be ultra-focused on identifying and delivering exactly the right brand experience that the customer expects at the appropriate time. And that means taking more ownership in the boardroom.

2. Boardroom pressure to drive growth

To work with consumers and deliver Living Services, marketers are expanding their roles. They are the engineers of digital transformation across the enterprise.

An Accenture Study reveals three in four CMOs say they have either "total" or a "great deal of control" of their firm's digital levers. One in three say marketing will merge totally with digital with the next five years. This means that marketers who are unable or unwilling to take on the digital challenge face being usurped, or rendered obsolete.

The arrival of new technologies is going to put digital at the heart of the CMO role. Amanda Jobbins, CMO EMEA and APAC at Oracle, says, "Looking ahead, the normalisation of AI and chatbots will completely reshape the role of marketing, and change how quickly customers get what they want from brands."

Today, CMOs not only need a seat at the table on the digital transformation journey for the entire enterprise, but they also need to meet CEO expectations to be key drivers of growth. This means spending time on disruptive strategies that open up new sources of revenue for the whole company.

CEOs hold five C-level executives responsible for driving disruptive growth. However 37 percent of CEOs hold CMOs most accountable, and say they are the first in the firing line if growth targets aren't met. Half of CEOs see CMOs as the primary driver of disruptive business growth.

Jobbins believes marketers will need to rethink not just how to use these technologies but also how to reshape the entire enterprise around them: "The biggest challenge for CMOs is less so in mastering new technology itself, but rather in rethinking business processes to get the most value from their investment. It's not enough to simply implement a new marketing technology at the tactical level. Companies also need a strategic rethink around what's possible and how new technologies can improve a brand's relationships with its customers."

This trend is changing what it means to be a CMO. Martin Häring, CMO of Finastra, a fintech services provider, says, "We will see CMOs morphing into hybrid Chief Data Officer and Chief Experience Officer roles within the next five years."

Coca-Cola axed the role of CMO altogether. The entire management team is now charged with marketing, and a new role of chief growth officer takes on the digital transformation mantle. Which definitely keeps the CEO happy — as long as new value propositions or partners are involved.

3. Techquake

Talk to CMOs and you'll hear about the sheer volume of tech systems they need to audition, select, and deploy. Tom Libretto, CMO of CRM-software company Pegasystems explains: "By far, the most daunting technology challenge CMOs deal with today is the sheer breadth of systems, applications, and data that need to be holistically architected and integrated to deliver contextual, personalised, and relevant customer experiences."

The director of client partnerships at Sky Media, Rachel Bristow, describes her biggest challenge: fragmentation of data sources. "We now have client, customer, media owner and agency data. System integration of multiple data sources means it can be harder and more time-consuming to build a complete picture of the consumer."

The tech situation is so absorbing there's the danger CMOs become fixated on digital platforms and lose sight of the brand narrative. Mark Evans, marketing director of insurance company Direct Line Group, warns, "The risk is that the CMO is mandated to over-focus on digital media because it gives demonstrable short-term ROI but in so doing underinvests in brand development for the long term."

Accenture's Hartman believes the best way marketers can respond to this overwhelming challenge of technology is by becoming an enabler of collaboration between specialist parties: "You need specialisation. You need the creative person and the analytics person, design people and experience architects. And you need someone who can actually bring these people together to collaborate."

4. The Digital-first disruptors

What do Snapchat, Zenefits, Slack, Jet, Social Finance and Udacity have in common? They are all tech disruptors that reached a billion-dollar-plus valuation in under 10 years.

Digital-first enterprises are usurping incumbents in all sectors. Ant Financial is now valued at $60bn. High street banks simply can't move as fast to compete, yet smaller companies are poised to be more agile and experimental.

So what to do? CMOs must be open to new technology, new partnerships and reimagining their core functions of their business.

Digital-first enterprises are redefining everything — from product design to marketing, sales and servicing. Ajay Easo, managing director of strategy, Accenture Interactive & Fjord explains that "Today's CMO should be the facilitators of the end-to-end transformation. Though they may not own every moment or touchpoint, they can ensure careful orchestration across departments." With nearly four out of five marketing executives stating they need to better leverage the ecosystem of partners and stakeholders to deliver superior customer experience, it's clear that CMOs need to reimagine their boundaries.

Innovation can happen from within but it can also come from partnerships with outside entities, where the CMO is the organizational orchestrator of capabilities rather than the executor of them.

What other outside groups can be involved? The CMO needs to show finesse and leadership to get all these groups working together.

Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. Combining unmatched experience and specialized skills across more than 40 industries and all business functions – underpinned by the world’s largest delivery network – Accenture works at the intersection of business and technology to help clients improve their performance and create sustainable value for their stakeholders. With approximately 442,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture drives innovation to improve the way the world works and lives. Visit us at

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