Do chief marketing officers still have a role in today’s business? Yes, says Adverity’s Alexander Igelsböck – but they need to adapt to changing circumstances.

“The species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species

The position of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has been called into question in the last couple of years with some seeing it as a role that has struggled to adapt to the times, with a number of major brands scrapping the role altogether. However, the news Coca-Cola is resurrecting the role, having only just ditched it in 2017, suggests that it’s not facing extinction.

The decline of the CMO has been a recurring theme in recent years, with only 70% of Fortune 500 companies currently retaining the role. Forrester predictions indicate few CMOs are effectively navigating the transition into the digital era, so they are continually being “levelled up or out of the C-suite,” and that “2020 marks the beginning of a final, desperate fight for CMO relevance”. In some cases the CMO’s responsibilities are absorbed into a much broader role such as Chief Growth Officer (CGO), who oversees other business drivers, including innovation, analytics and strategy in addition to marketing. In other cases, duties are split between specific functions, as with McDonald’s which recently created the two new positions of SVP global marketing and SVP marketing technology to replace its CMO.

Yet Coca-Cola has recognised a need to refocus on marketing and is bringing back the CMO role to “accelerate its vision”. And it is far from alone. Ailing department store Debenhams has appointed British Airways’ former head of brand and marketing as CMO to help turn the business around, while Pandora has also announced the appointment of a new CMO as part of a ramp-up in marketing investment and a brand re-launch.

This dichotomy illustrates the CMO species is at a critical point where the ability to change could make the difference between survival and extinction. It is still a vital and viable role if CMOs can adapt and adjust to the new demands of the industry – so how can this necessary evolution be achieved?

Collaborate across the C-suite

In the digital age, marketing must be far more aligned with other business activities than it used to be, enabling continuity and seamless customer experiences. To facilitate this level of integration CMOs must collaborate with other members of the C-suite, looking at how they can work together more effectively and how their marketing efforts relate to other parts of the business.

With marketing performance depending greatly on technology, CMOs must work particularly closely with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) to ensure the marketing strategies are supported by the appropriate tools and systems. Marketing is no longer a disconnected undertaking, so collaboration is vital to the CMO’s survival.

Share insight throughout the business

Today’s businesses have access to huge volumes of marketing data that can help them understand their customers and ultimately deliver what those customers want. A wide range of data types – from sales data to competitive analysis and market growth rate figures to customer surveys – are collected by CRM systems, web or e-commerce platform and advertising technologies. Unfortunately data is frequently inaccessible, held in disparate siloes across the organisation. Businesses are often unaware of the data they hold and struggle to integrate it due to differences in file formats and labelling conventions, resulting in data chaos.

To position themselves for the future, CMOs must take the lead in centralising data management, using marketing intelligence techniques to collect, organise and manage data. By creating useable data sets that provide valuable insight, CMOs can discover the drivers of success, inform effective decision-making and ultimately maximise performance, not just within the marketing department but across the entire business.

Align KPIs between departments

While sharing data and insight across the business is essential, the value of this approach is limited if distinct departments still work to their own individual goals and metrics. To make their role indispensable, the CMO must work with other business units to establish a standardised KPI framework across the organisation.

Automated reporting of multi-level KPIs through customised dashboards enables stakeholders across the organisation to gain a real-time view of business and marketing performance. Specific permissions and access rights can be set to protect information, and data visualisation techniques can be used to illustrate insight, whether the user requires a high-level overview or drilled-down granular reporting. By encouraging the organisation to work together towards universal KPIs, CMOs can prove their value and justify their existence.

As we enter a new decade, 2020 will be a pivotal year for the CMO. But by adjusting to the changing business environment, collaborating with the C-suite, sharing data insight, and establishing KPIs across the organisation, CMOs can evolve to save their job role from potential extinction and prove they play a key role in driving success in modern day businesses.