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The role of CMOs in preparing for Industry 4.0

From The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today

CMOs have an opportunity to lead organizational transformation in four areas that will be most affected by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution approaches, executives are only now beginning to grasp what’s in store. After finding a “mix between hope and ambiguity” in its 2018 inaugural survey assessing Industry 4.0 readiness, Deloitte’s second annual survey1 shows the number of executives who feel they’re doing all they can to prepare dropped by half. This result seems to suggest executives are getting a better idea of the myriad challenges ahead.

Industry 4.0 is the confluence of innovation and new technologies such as analytics, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, and the internet of things to enable a more interconnected enterprise spanning both the physical and digital worlds. In this year’s survey, “Success Personified in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Deloitte asked executives how they are enabling their organizations to succeed in this new age when it comes to four areas: Society, strategy, technology, and talent.

In general, CMOs are on the same page as their C-suite colleagues when it comes to organizational preparation for these challenges. That said, there are some opportunities for CMOs to help lead organizational transformation.

Create a culture of doing good

Among the top insights from this year’s survey is that executives increasingly see value in creating programs that have a broad societal impact. More than one-third of executives surveyed rank “societal impact” as the most important factor their organizations use to evaluate their annual performance, more than the number citing “financial performance” and “employee satisfaction” combined. CMOs hold a similar view; 31 percent of marketing executives surveyed say that societal impact is their organization’s most important metric of success. Seventy-three percent of CXOs and just about the same percentage of CMOs (71 percent) report having changed or developed products or services in the past year in order to be more socially conscious.

At the same time, however, only 43 percent of executives point to their organization’s culture and policies as a primary driver of that societal impact. This is where CMOs can step in to help develop and connect broader societal impact initiatives to their companies’ overall business strategies, both externally and internally. By fostering a culture that articulates how societal impact initiatives affect the bottom line, CMOs can help connect companies to their larger purpose and better fulfill brand promise. Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends research finds stakeholders are frustrated with political solutions to societal problems, and increasingly expect businesses to do their part to address them. Doing well by doing good is a chance to connect with consumers’ and employees’ values.

Take the lead on innovation

To succeed in Industry 4.0, companies will want to innovate quickly, fail freely, learn on the fly, and try again. In general, CMOs are fortunate to have some leeway to take chances. According to Deloitte’s survey, 70 percent of CMOs say they have permission from the organization’s leadership to fail in pursuit of innovation. CMOs can take this opportunity to push their organizations to explore new models that foster growth.

As they pursue innovation, CMOs will want to be the consumer’s advocate internally, particularly when it comes to technology. In Deloitte’s survey, only nine percent of CMOs—and only 12 percent of CXOs overall—completely agree their organizations have policies in place to ensure the ethical use of technology. As companies look to move beyond marketing to create more personalized experiences, data protection will be an area where CMOs can take a lead role.

In the pursuit of innovation, there is one point to keep in mind: Failure is only worthwhile if learning is gained from it. CMOs will want to ensure they have a clear understanding of what they hope to achieve and an ability to measure outcomes. A culture of failure won’t succeed; a culture of learning will drive growth.

Work within the C-suite

Deloitte’s survey indicates a troubling lack of alignment within the C-suite when it comes to decision-making. Only a quarter of CMOs completely agree their companies have clearly defined decision-making processes, and only about 20 percent say decisions are made by an inclusive and diverse group of stakeholders. Now is the time for CMOs to become more assertive. Decision-making is a collaborative process, and CMOs will want to take a proactive approach to building strong relationships across the C-suite. Becoming well-versed in other parts of the business, understanding how those pieces are evolving, and helping identify the risks associated with Industry 4.0 will also be important.

At the same time, CMOs will want to share their knowledge about the marketing function. As companies look to create more human experiences with their customers, it is essential the voice of the consumer not get lost. It’s important to use the information gleaned from consumers to provide insight that supports and strengthens colleagues’ initiatives. Only one-fifth of surveyed CMOs believe their organizations are using data-driven insights to fuel decision-making. CMOs can take this opportunity to push that forward.

Identify talent requirements

All members of the C-suite are being challenged to attract and retain employees who have the skills needed to succeed in Industry 4.0, yet many are not sure what that means. About half (46 percent) of executives surveyed indicate one of their top challenges regarding talent for Industry 4.0 is understanding what abilities might be needed. Among senior executives, CIOs express the most confidence about knowing what they require. CMOs may want to take this opportunity to connect and collaborate with their CIO counterparts to help identify the five areas of highest priority.

Focusing only on technical skills would be a mistake, however. A large part of marketing is making and maintaining human connections. CMOs will want to concentrate on areas that will help the company stay close to the consumer. Softer skills such as creativity, cognitive flexibility, and emotional intelligence will remain important even as organizations’ technical capabilities grow. Emphasizing these areas can also help recruit and keep the next generation of talent. In Deloitte Global’s 2018 Millennial Survey, this group listed interpersonal skills, confidence/motivation, ethics/integrity, and critical thinking as the top four abilities employers need to ensure long-term success.

Industry 4.0 is fast approaching, if not already here. Deloitte’s recent readiness survey reveals many executives are beginning to understand the enormity of the challenges it brings. When it comes to four areas of impact that may prove important in this new era—societal impact, innovation, decision-making, and talent—CMOs have an opportunity to take a lead in preparing their organizations for the future and enhancing their own readiness to drive growth.


1. This research is based on a survey of 2,042 global executives conducted by Forbes Insights in June-August 2018. Survey respondents represented 19 countries from the Americas, Asia, and Europe as well as all major industry sectors. All survey respondents were C-level executives, including CEOs/presidents, COOs, CFOs, CMOs, CIOs, and CTOs. All executives represented organizations with revenue of $1 billion or more, with half (50.1 percent) from organizations with more than $5 billion in revenue. Additionally, Forbes Insights and Deloitte Global conducted one-on-one interviews with global industry leaders and academics.

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