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CMO of the Future: 5 Ways Marketing Leaders Are Stepping Up to Navigate Their New Destiny

Businesses need CMOs more than ever before, but the role of the CMO itself has changed. It is now the business-critical link between multiple stakeholders within the company and is the key champion of the customer (present and future). Being a CMO is no longer simply about being great at marketing strategy: The CMO is now a direct influence on business growth and a critical driver of transformation.

The evolution of the CMO

Yesterday’s CMO was about communications, branding, and advertising. The future-fit CMO is a strategic partner to the CEO, someone expected to understand the business landscape well enough to articulate and predict which markets, products, services, or execution strategies will deliver the most profitable growth.

A recent article in CMO further highlights the massive transformation happening in marketing leadership, noting that “Not only have CMOs and their marketing functions had to adjust, build up new skills and ways of working, and embrace rapid innovation, they’ve also had to keep learning and adjusting as things continue to change and transform. Throw in a global pandemic and a whole new approach to working and executing campaigns, and you have a perfect storm of factors contributing to the CMO’s rapidly evolving role.”

Future-fit CMOs are transforming their organizations from their traditional role of brand steward, lead generation machine, and sales supporter to become the architect of organizational success. Marketing’s new mandate is to be the driving force to which an organization turns to achieve its objectives.

5 essential CMO pivots

How can CMOs navigate this maze of new responsibilities? They must engineer several significant mindset pivots in their organizations and take on the expanded responsibilities of marketing’s new mandate with a great sense of urgency.

1. From customer focused to customer obsessed 

While CMO’s have always had sharp focus on addressing customer needs, the demands and expectations of customers keep rising, requiring the future-fit CMO to put the customer at the center of everything they do.

According to Forrester’s 2021 Global Marketing Survey, “71% of respondents agreed that buyers expect an experience that is personalized to their needs and preferences, and 74% agree that buyers expect an immediate response to their questions.”

The CMO is uniquely positioned to align their organizations around a shared view of the customer by:

  • Providing data and insights about potential and existing customers
  • Developing processes and approaches designed to meet the news of the customer in every interaction with the business

2. From data-driven to insights-activated

There’s an explosion of technologies and tools in the market to model data, drive predictive analytics, and fuel machine learning to automate, orchestrate, and optimize marketing efforts. Because of this, marketing organizations are inundated with data and insights.

Future-fit CMOs must ensure their teams can not only analyze data but also activate those insights into exceptional customer interactions and experiences.

3. From collaborative to the engineer of alignment

Marketing is situated alongside many key parts of the business including sales, product management, customer support, and engineering—giving CMOs a unique perspective on organizational alignment.

Future-fit CMOs make their innate customer-obsession their superpower and work relentlessly to translate the shared view of the customer into short-and long-term initiatives that accelerate growth. This means that CMOs must forge tighter bonds with cross-functional leaders and teams to drive alignment, establish interlocks, and foster mutual accountability for enabling the delivery of exceptional buyer and customer experiences.

4. From segmented to personalized

I’ve written about the power of effective personalization in previous Leading FWD blogs. Regardless of whether you sell B2B or B2C, your customers expect a personalized experience with your brand that delivers the right offer, to the right person, at the exact right time they need it.

With advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and customer data platforms, marketers now have access to the key enabling technologies to deliver 1:1 personalized experiences.

The CMO of the future will move beyond the realm of micro-segmentation based on demographics and firmographics to curate the highly relevant, customized experiences that modern customers demand today.

5. From company values to customer values

A clear presentation of brand purpose establishes a basis for the organization’s entire marketing plan. Brand purpose marketing isn’t just an ephemeral reaction to the unsettling events of the past year or so. It has its roots deep in the souls of rising generations.

The message from customers has been growing steadily stronger for more than a decade: A brand’s values matter to them. They want an authentic statement of a brand’s purpose. Many are willing to pay a premium to associate themselves with a good purpose, and they are often willing to take their business elsewhere if the brand’s purpose isn’t aligned with theirs.

In the 2020 “Strength of Purpose” global study analyzing the business value of brands, having a well understood “purpose” has revealed a strong business benefit to such purposeful brands and their companies. Consumers are four to six times more likely to buy from, trust, champion, and defend companies with a strong purpose.

The future-fit CMO takes the lead on activating their organization’s brand purpose, ensuring that it is fully embedded in operational and organizational structures and business activities.

Let’s pave the way for success

Marketing has always been a strategic pillar for business. But in our customer-led, pandemic-shaped environment, the future-fit CMO is the right person to pave the way for success.

I look forward to seeing the great work we all will do to step up to our new destiny as future-fit CMOs.


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