CMO; still not dead, but evolving

The Chief Marketing Officer has been declared dead more often than cold-calling, at least once every year by some pundit or major media since 2012 when Forbes did it. The role is resilient, but also highly changeable. Recently in a possible foretelling, Mcdonalds did not replace their departing CMO directly, preferring to delegate responsibility to a VP of global marketing and a VP of marketing technology. While this move rightfully puts more focus on martech, it also points up the difficulties inherent in the CMO’s mission. The role calls for equal skills in creative/brand management and state of the art SaaS software that make up the growing marketing technology stack. It’s a difficult right brain/left brain skill set mix. Because many CMO’s lack detail experience with SaaS systems, particularly if they came out of communications or brand, they often spend indiscriminately, bringing on new platforms before the previous ones are fully understood, hoping for the magic software bullet that will make everything run smoothly. After a year in which expenditures shrunk somewhat, money spent on marketing platforms as a percentage of budget increased by 29% last year according to Gartner (

However, far from bringing clarity, the martech mix at many companies is a confusing blend of overlapping capabilities and systems that are not being utilized because nobody has the time to learn how to use them properly. And they may or may not be integrated with the sales stack in B2B. Failed implementations for pivotal systems like CRM are estimated to run at over 50%. The hidden secret is that none of these systems produces on its own. All of them require some commitment of personnel hours, often extensive setup/data conversion, then continuous training and daily operation. In a company function (marketing) with chronically low head counts, some valuable systems will be ignored.

What is causing this fixation on martec over brand and creativity? My belief, one I have held for some time, is that marketers look to guarantee their value to the company in the face of a potential downturn, such as has been predicted for several months now. The way to do this is to emphasize programs that show measurable results leading to ROI. By its very nature, technology does this. Creative programs and branding do not, in fact, in the eyes of Finance, they are essentially sunk costs for which no value was realized. There are two fundamental and highly flawed beliefs involved here that drive this behavior. The first is that martech is totally separate from brand/creative and can function without it. In fact, marketing automation in particular depends entirely on a stream of fresh, relevant and effective content, without which it is ineffective. CRM data depends entirely on the successful interaction of potential customers with company sales representatives, an interaction that will not happen if the reps are not supplied with quality focused content. The other flawed belief is that the company can control the visitor experience through its martec systems. There is simply no data to support this, the customer continues to maintain control over his/her customer journey. So, the idea that martech can function effectively without creative is specious, and we can measure the failure very accurately. In a recent report, Forrester chided marketing leadership for overspending on technology and underspending on creative efforts, undercutting the brand and limiting the customer experience.

Was Madonalds right to split the function between two peers? It was probably right for them, and may be the way of the future for B2C Fortune 500, but smaller companies may not have that option. It will be better for Marketing to focus on hiring qualified technology leadership as an organic marketing function, much as a ship’s captain relies on a competent engineer who runs the engine room. Where Marketing is underqualified for making a good hiring decision, consultants and quality recruiting firms may be employed. It is well worth the expense. If this is not a possibility in the company environment, Marketing will have to make an arrangement with IT to take over martech requirements gathering, acquisition, implementation and maintenance. Not the ideal solution in my mind, but someone has to get control over the martec mix and get some value from it., while Marketing stops neglecting the brand.

Where, then, is the CMO profession going? I believe successful CMO’s of the future will have the character to accept responsibility for the entire breadth of activities that comprise today’s marketing and admit that they need help to run everything. Like other successful leaders, they will be adept at recruiting and hiring people of diverse skill sets who share their vision. They will focus on leading those people, avoiding minutiae and micromanagement. They should be generalists who have come to the position intentionally by learning sales, understanding branding, developing content, and becoming very familiar with the processes that are needed to leverage martech. And they will be very, very skilled at convincing the CEO that they are on the right track.