What The CMO of The Future Looks Like

This is the first article of a four-part series exploring the characteristics of the CMO of the future, brought to you by [x+1]. In future installments, we will profile digital leaders at brands.


The chief marketing officer has it rough. That’s not going to change.

We all know the stat on the short tenure of marketing leaders at brands. The CMO of the future is going to need to perform a balancing act of being that visionary leader while sweating the details; tending to the creative while immersing in numbers; and setting a long-term vision while maintaining real-time flexibility.

“My advice to CMOs of the future is to define the role of marketing within the organization,” said Jim Stengel, former CMO of Procter & Gamble. “Ask yourself what is the work you want to do and what you need to do it. Beyond that CMOs of the future should develop and share and get feedback on their philosophy and how they do marketing.”

With the very definition of marketing in flux — think of how new platforms have marketing baked in already — the CMO of the future needs to be far more flexible and have different skills than in the past. The diverse skill set needed means CMOs will follow a different career path. The old model was joining an organization early, perhaps out of business school, then working your way up the corporate ladder, gaining a diversity of experience with different brands. The new model, according to Steven Cook, former CMO of Samsung, is more akin to a startup mentality. The CMO will need to learn what it’s like to move fast and do things on the cheap. The future is, after all, about doing more with less.

“I’m kind of the example of what not to do,” Cook admitted. “I spent 13 years at Procter & Gamble and 13 years at Coca-Cola and you can’t do that anymore. You’re not growing a diverse set of skills and that’s going to be mandatory five to 10 years from now.”

The companies that are really interesting and that CMOs of the future should understand are the ones that develop platforms. Look at Amazon Google, Facebook and even Nike. They’ve built their own platforms. The great companies of the future will have their version of a platform, said Stengel.

The only way to do that is through partnerships. CMOs are already managing a bewildering array of vendors. The old model of contracting with a trusted “lead agency” is over and not coming back. The marketer of the future — and really the present — needs to take a hands-on approach, assembling a roster of specialists and acting as the leader to make sure all are moving to the same objective. This isn’t a task that can be outsourced to a third party.

The big shift happening for marketing is moving it from a cost center to a revenue generator. Data is fueling that revolution. Marketing will no longer be that fuzzy activity many others in the corporate structure view as fluff.

“The new focus on transparent engagement and data that comes from it will help make the big idea take the backseat,” said Jeff Dachis, co-founder of Razorfish and CEO The Dachis Group.

That means a bigger emphasis on so-called “revenue marketing,” which can be directly tied to sales, versus the big idea brand building exercises. Right now, by Dachis’ estimates big-idea expenditures still dwarf revenue marketing by 10 to 1.

Tying all these together is a big challenge. That’s why the CMO of the future is likely to be a dynamic leader within companies, someone who might then ascend to the top slot.

“The CMO of the future will need to have people management skills and needs to be stronger in strategy and all the things about where to play, and how to seek competitive advantage,” Stengel said. “They also need to be able to recognize and find strong partners. This individual will be very skilled in analytics and very good at basic research and curiosity. CMOs need to spend less time in making ads, running projects and managing agencies and instead ramp up in these other areas.”


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