Watch Gears


The four roles of the CMO

The multiple roles of the 21st-century chief marketing officer

At nearly every turn, marketing pursuits look vastly different in style, scope, and execution than they did just a few years ago.

CMO roles

As fast-evolving technology and consumer behaviors collide, the CMO role has evolved substantially, increasing the CMO’s visibility and potential for leadership and influence.

Though as CMOs actively work to position themselves as enterprisewide strategic leaders, they are often overwhelmed with legacy tasks, such as tactical campaign management. Half of interviewees in our Redefining the Modern CMO study said having an enterprise wide mindset was the most important factor in a CMO’s success—but simultaneously, only 6% of CMOs said they were actively working on growing revenue across the business. And while two-thirds of CMOs aspire to lead their organization’s corporate strategy, only 8% of CMOs are actually operating in that capacity today.

So, what can a CMO do to assert themselves as the high-impact leader the organization craves?

Customer, confidence, and collaboration: The path to enterprisewide influence and leadership

Our research tells us that the CMO’s C-suite peers routinely recognize their customer expertise. But CMOs don’t always fully understand how influential those insights are to the entire organization. By confidently bringing their unique expertise to the strategic table, CMOs can open new doors to collaborating across the C-suite. In doing so, they can transform every facet of the enterprise—from strategic planning to talent management to innovation—into a customer-centric endeavor. That means confidently leveraging their expertise in four key roles: Growth Driver, Innovation Catalyst, Brand Storyteller, and Capability Builder.


Growth driver

When we initially classified the CMO roles, one of the crucial areas of focus involved the responsibility to create and manage profitable growth. Subsequent conversations around the standing of the CMO as a growth driver have revealed big gaps between the ideal state and reality. For instance, in interviews with a variety of C-suite executives, both within and outside the CMO role, half of the interviewees said having an enterprisewide mindset was one of the most important factors in a CMO’s success. Yet only 6% of CMOs described themselves as actively working on growing revenue across all global business activities.

A separate Deloitte report similarly reveals some of the discomfort CMOs express in assuming the role of growth driver. In this survey of senior marketing executives, respondents nearly unanimously (95%) say revenue is the top measure of growth in the organization, while 70% feel most confident driving growth through revenue. But only 32% feel prepared to impact market share, and just 20% feel prepared to drive gross margin, even though both of these are considered critical areas of growth by the business.

Innovation catalyst

Marketers who can create breakthroughs with these platforms comprise another facet of the CMO. A majority of marketers who embody the innovation catalyst role say data and intelligence can help them advance the growth agenda. But only 18% believe a deep understanding of the product portfolio will help them proceed to the next stage of growth.

Brand storyteller

In the midst of these changes, it’s still up to marketers to safeguard and disseminate the news about their company’s brands and invite consumers to participate in the narrative. Chief storytellers have been defined by their part in promoting brand relevance and consistency, and it appears they aren’t straying far away from this role. More than 40% of CMOs in Deloitte’s study on the changing role of the CMO say they’re working on brand-shaping and campaign execution activities. Meanwhile, only 6% of CMOs report actively working on growing revenue across all global business activities.

As marketing decisions increasingly take place in real time, the distinctive roles of the CMO are likely to become even more complex. Business results will depend on chief marketing officers who are prepared to assume multiple roles to help drive their organizations to success.

Capability builder

The power to amass and deploy robust marketing capabilities are the hallmarks of another key CMO role. Marketers who operate as capability builders demonstrate the function’s reach across the business: Three-quarters of new technology spending involved the CMO in 2017 and 2018, according to an analysis of marketing technology spending. Yet as more marketers possess greater customer insights and technical reach, they’re not necessarily broadening their applications in kind. For example, while 34% of CMOs say they are applying these capabilities toward campaign management platforms, only 10% say they are using them to improve life cycle management or customer experience management platforms, according to Deloitte research.

The CMO role has evolved substantially, increasing the CMO’s visibility and potential for leadership and influence.

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