The role of the CMO has transformed. With increased importance on customer experience and demonstrating value, leaders must change how they market and how they talk about marketing impact.
Today’s CMOs are strategic orchestrators for their organizations. They must connect the dots among people, technology, processes and products in new and bold ways. They also have to change how they talk about marketing impact to keep the C-suite and cross-functional partners informed and communicate with the entire organization in language that resonates. And they must constantly advocate for their teams. On top of that, they need to experiment, take risks and push the boundaries amid a flurry of new technologies, channels and customer changes.
“It’s about business leadership first and marketing leadership second,” says longtime marketing executive turned leadership development consultant Alan Gellman. “The primary focus has to be on your peer team and your colleagues, not your functional team. You have to manage marketing functions across the enterprise, whether it’s 500 people or 500,000 people. The emphasis must be on the product, the customer experience and revenue.”
The pandemic lit a match to the concept of adapting and changing to meet consumer interests and demands. It accelerated tech adoption and forced brands to rethink business models. And at a time when marketing budgets have become even more strained, every customer interaction must be meaningful—and every effort should have a clear line of sight to ROI.
"Marketing doesn’t have a monopoly on innovation; it should be occurring in other areas and coming from other places." —Sara Bittorf, Chief Experience Officer, TGI Friday's
CORE spoke with four marketing executives about the evolving role of the CMO. Here are their perspectives on how to achieve success during these extraordinary times.
Denise A. Campbell
Head of consumer marketing, AbbVie Immunology
How has the role of the CMO changed in the past decade?
It has rapidly changed from being a “function” to being considered an integral part of the business, driving both top- and bottom-line growth, but also the capability to further sustain that growth.
Companies that make the shift from “function” to “growth engine” are setting themselves up for success. It’s more than advertising. It’s more than communication. Yes, it’s about talking to specific segments and inspiring them to take action, but it’s always connected to a strategy that should be unlocking growth and value for the organization.
What strategies have helped prove the value of marketing across your organization?
As much as things change in the digital space today, some fundamentals remain the same. If you’re able to identify a strong consumer insight and activate against it, it’s a win for the consumer and it’s a win for the business. And when that magic happens, you see results fairly immediately, and momentum begets momentum. It becomes easier to prove the case for marketing and investment.
What role do KPIs play?
Whatever vertical you work in, you’re looking for some impact on revenue. Is that in the form of a cash register ring? Is it the amount in a shopping cart as people move through a retail environment?
It’s critical to fully understand leading indicators that lead to the ultimate metric of revenue growth. This translates into the specific factors that matter to consumers. For example, when people come to our websites to look for a physician, it’s a very strong signal that they’re really serious about engaging more deeply in their care. That’s something we can act on and support. You can then define how to better personalize and contextualize marketing messages to that individual.
How do you balance relevance for consumers versus feeling like marketing is potentially invasive?
You have to frequently remember your life as a consumer, not just as a marketer. All of us have had these experiences where you look at one thing online, and suddenly the banner ads are everywhere. It’s taking those lessons that you’re learning as a consumer and applying them to your own category where you’re a marketing leader, and we’re very careful and responsible in healthcare.
We’re extremely disciplined about establishing good business rules upfront, and we’re very similar to financial services in that way. No one wants their financial health exposed, just like no one likes their health exposed, whether you’re perfectly healthy or you have something you’re treating. Both industries have found a good balance of protecting customers’ privacy and giving them personalized experiences. Since people come to our websites for information when they have health concerns, it’s important to make things secure and seamless for them instead of frustrating them when they don’t feel well. Protecting our customers is first and foremost a priority for us.
Can you share an example where you brought a big idea to the table and had to get buy-in?
Our digital transformation initiative began with external benchmarking. It showed that we were behind our peers, and some of our web and digital assets weren’t competitive.
"If you’re able to identify a strong consumer insight and activate against it, it’s a win for the consumer and it’s a win for the business." —Denise A. Campbell, Head of Consumer Marketing, AbbVie Immunology
We started to shine a light on that internally and said we really have to be better. There were a lot of conversations up and down the organization, socializing the idea of what it meant to get everyone on the same page with respect to vocabulary and terminology, as well as what was the value, not only to the company, but to our marketing community.
Once we acted on the digital transformation and began to see measurable results, we gained momentum in terms of our rankings in the industry. That created a hunger to do more, and we saw a measurable impact on our business.
How do you balance short-term and long-term initiatives?
We know which marketing capabilities we need to excel in based on our roadmap and how we’re making our investments.
We’re also constantly looking at the landscape and seeing what’s emerging: What are the hot topics? What do our patients need? What are the new capabilities that are coming into the marketing landscape? It’s especially important in our industry, because technology is transforming healthcare and marketing at the same time.
We don’t have time to chase each new squirrel as it scampers across the landscape, but we quickly make an evaluation of which ones we think will have lasting impact on our business. Once we’ve identified them, we can start to get some initial learning so we can scale it as needed across the business.
Chief growth and CX officer, Good Eggs
Former global CMO and chief customer officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance
What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about the role of the CMO?
People overestimate the value of consensus. The truth is you need people to believe in your idea, but they don’t all necessarily need to agree with every part of it—that’s almost an impossible feat. For example, people can conceptually agree that personalized experiences are going to be more effective than experiences that are not. The first step is to gain buy-in to the concept, but not try to get everyone to believe in every element.
How do you put this concept into motion?
When you set up proof experiments, it can’t be a black box where you show up six months later and say, “Ta-da!” I try to manage that by breaking every project into weekly and biweekly chunks—we get to that level of granularity on my team. Through that granularity comes momentum, so by the time you get to six months on an experiment that’s going well, people don’t feel like it just showed up and question how you got there.
Engage the business stakeholders on the journey and on the proof points along the way. In the short-term, people are like, “OK, I’m seeing some wins and value to the business,” so by the end of the experiment, you’ve got a whole body of proof that’s going to be massive, measurable impact to the business because of an experiment that you can now scale.
What do you consider critical for business transformation?
CMOs have to figure out what their modern marketing organization looks like and what skill sets are needed—and those skills are very different from five years ago. A lot of leaders fail when they think the same team can achieve the same outcomes on totally new ideas.
"A lot of leaders fail when they think the same team can achieve the same outcomes on totally new ideas." —Vineet Mehra, Chief Growth and CX Officer, Good Eggs
I’ve learned to be very honest about where you have the capabilities to fulfill your vision and where you don’t, and supplement your team as required. Most of us inherit pretty good teams; we just may not have all the skill sets and expertise required to go there.
It’s a balancing act. You’re not going to completely upend your organization and bring in new talent, because then you get a bull’s-eye on your back. What I try to do is be pragmatic: break the outcomes into steps along the way, leverage the great capabilities in the org already, and then augment with external resources in an outcomes-based model.
How do you discuss marketing impact with others in the organization?
You really have to use plain English. About 90% of my stakeholders are not marketers. I don’t use terms like “brand affinity.” Not that it isn’t important, but you have to use terms that are relevant to your stakeholder.
I’m looking at things that a CFO, a general manager, a shareholder or a board member can understand. If I say ARPU, or average revenue per unit, people get lost. But when I frame things in the context of “How many people in my loyalty program can I actually contact?” they get it. The less buzzword bingo you play, the better.
What metrics are the most important?
I only like very clear pre/post type metrics. If we’re going to run personalization, I’m looking at a few metrics, like open rates of emails or average revenue per contactable customer. Those are nondebatable things: You’ll have either X or Y, and it either moved or it didn’t. That can’t be debated.
But they are also balanced with experience metrics, like NPS scores, which is how a customer is feeling about these things. Combining that with true financial value—those are the wins.
And we use a balanced scorecard because, without one, it’s entirely possible to get out of sync. You can deliver a great customer experience but produce no financial value, or you can drive financial value but fail on the customer experience front.
Chief experience officer, TGI Fridays
How did you adapt to changing demands and regulations during the COVID-19 crisis?
We are already in a fast-moving category, and the pandemic just accelerated that to the nth degree. We have had to lean into approaches that have a very close attribution loop and where we can definitively demonstrate ROI. When you’re faced with limited dollars, it means you have to make sure every dollar is working hard for you.
Almost overnight, we introduced curbside pickup and enabled contactless purchases. We revamped our online ordering system and updated our loyalty program. Then there was a meat shortage, and we said, “Hey, we have meat,” because our sales contracted, so maybe we create packages for consumers to cook it themselves. The product, The Butcher Shop, turned out to be nearly labor free and profitable.
How do you achieve the speed and agility that’s now essential?
One of the really interesting things coming out of the restaurant industry is the virtual restaurants and the virtual concepts that live only on delivery platforms. If we start to think about how we can create brands that live only in a virtual world, then we can speed up the time to market pretty substantially. You could have a concept and create it in a matter of weeks.
The other part is the idea of driving revenue out of existing assets. If you have a brick-and-mortar location and it’s suffering or challenged by the pandemic, what else can you do with that asset?
What has helped you manage your team and resources?
I’ve always lived by the “three F’s of focus.” First, figure out what matters—what’s going to move the business? And just do that to the exclusion of everything else. Second, do fewer things, better—focus on improving the quality of your outcomes.
And third, do first things first. That was really important in the pandemic because suddenly you had a million things on fire, and you had to stage them, pace and sequence.
From there, it’s figuring out what builds on what. What can you do first to create revenue that will fund your second phase? What can you do to create learnings that will fund your third phase?
How do you foster collaboration across departments?
Everybody thinks they’re a marketer. It would be ludicrous for me to call up the CFO and tell her that I thought that her accounts receivables is being managed incorrectly, right? But nobody has a problem telling marketers how to do marketing. I’m fortunate to work in an organization that does recognize that subject matter experts should have the final decision.
That being said, we recognize that marketing doesn’t have a monopoly on innovation; it should be occurring in other areas and coming from other places.
The more people you enroll in the process, the more likely they are to buy into the outcomes, even if the outcomes aren’t what they had suggested. I find that the fastest way to get somebody to knee-jerk oppose something is to introduce it to them at the very last minute and give them absolutely no choice in it and not allow any kind of feedback.
How do you look at longer-term planning for strategy and resources?
I don’t think marketing should be safe. We embrace the philosophy that if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.
We also have to balance what we need in the long term versus what’s good in the short term— we have a rule to not make long-term problems out of short-term issues. For example, we have a contract for part of our online ordering system that won’t expire until 2022. We said, “Well, it’s kind of like buying a stock, right? Would we buy it again today?” The answer was no, so we scrapped it and moved on.
Executive coach, Convivo Leadership and CMO Coaches
Former CMO, Credible and Esurance
How has the pandemic changed the role of the CMO?
COVID accelerated existing trends, but the underlying goal is the same: top-line and bottom-line growth. CMOs must have what I call a general manager mindset. They’re responsible for both the consumer and for growth.
Being a CMO is an art and a science. But you also have to have heart. Heart relates to what’s intentional about the customer. CMOs must understand the dynamic of what it means to be a customer and engage and influence them accordingly. Depending on the organization, this may involve customer experience, the product, communications and PR. The key to results is a metrics-driven approach and tight relationships with other business leaders.
It’s also about being intentional with how you influence and engage internally to accomplish your organization’s agenda. Although CMOs are marketers, they have to hold business leadership first. How are you managing across your enterprise, and how are you focusing business leadership around growth?
How can a CMO maximize interactions across teams that don’t have a deep understanding of marketing?
Be clear about decision rights versus influence rights: What is yours to own and drive, and where do you still want to hear people out?
It’s important to communicate that input is welcome. Today, great ideas come from anywhere. The IT guy, say, might have the perfect twist on an idea. If there’s too much input, then you have to find a way to sort through everything. But you don’t want to slam doors shut.
"Being a CMO is an art and a science. But you also have to have heart." —Alan Gellman, Executive Coach, Convivo Leadership and CMO Coaches
You also need to let people know your team will ultimately decide what to do. It’s often better to take longer and get things right, even if it means taking a few hits along the way. Play the long game.
How does a CMO achieve buy-in?
It starts with a recognition that relationships and consensus are different things. We all work with difficult personalities; people often come from a place of fear and worry. It’s important to recognize this and ask a few questions: How can I support them, and how can they support me? What outcome am I seeking? What’s the best path to this outcome? The objective is to build consensus at the top and alleviate fear surrounding people losing their control.
How do you build that alignment among your organization and partners?
Recognize your end goal and be patient. During my time as senior vice president of digital marketing at Wells Fargo, for example, each division worked with a different agency and was essentially competing against each other in the marketplace. Rather than firing all seven agencies and choosing one—which was the end goal—we worked to build alignment and alleviate fear of people losing control: Is this working? How is it serving us? How is it hurting us? I made clear I was simply a facilitator. It was a heavy lift over a couple of years, but in the end, we streamlined to one agency.
How does a CMO balance short-term and longterm objectives?
I recommend identifying the top three programs for long-term growth and staying focused on them by aligning your metrics. If you do this, you can’t lose in the short term because important issues are in your face every day. In addition, it’s important to communicate this information to the C-suite in language they understand.
What other advice do you offer CMOs?
You’re the leader that’s right for this role. So, trust that and own that. Confidence allows you to be courageous. Take risks, because not taking risks is the biggest risk. Demonstrate resilience for yourself and for your team. Optimism, confidence and being comfortable with ambiguity are powerful qualities that lead to success.
For more content like this, download the full second issue of CORE here.
Image credits: Artwork by Klawe Rzeczy