The new pressures faced by today’s CMOS

Every advertising agency leader is acutely conscious of the tectonic shifts in the industry over the past two decades. The damned earth won’t stop moving for us as we constantly grapple with disruptive technology and disturbing media-consumption patterns. We’ve been staring down the barrel at our own mortality, wrestling with our roles and adapting furiously — and, I believe, we’ve done that pretty successfully so far.

Arguably what we’ve not been understanding enough of is the implications of all of this for our clients, and the CMOs especially. How has their role in their respective organisations changed and what are the new pressures they are being forced to confront on a daily basis?

The new pressures

First, we need to accept that the role of the CMO of today is wholly different from that of the marketing director of days past.

Once the custodian of brand value and the levers that helped to drive that, the CMO of today has entered the age of accountability in a dramatic way, more and more responsible for delivering not only significant efficiencies but compelled to show effectiveness, engagement and ROI in the context of changing technologies.

The data they have to measure is vaster and more complex. The budget pressures are more absolute and CEOs are not prepared to simply defer to the marketing professional’s instinct or the old “we know half of our advertising works; we’re just not sure which half” maxim. The room for whimsical or creative or bold maneuverings has been closed down.

On top of this, there are three dominant dilemmas burdening CMOs:

  1. The first is the problem of ‘exponential efficiency’. In other words, the ever-increasing expectation from CEOs and CFOs that marketing should be more and more efficient and a critical driver of commercial growth.
  2. The second is untangling the ‘complexity conundrum’. This refers to the problem that has emerged where the more specialised marketing gets, the more difficult marketing becomes to implement because of the gridlock caused by multiple agencies across different disciplines.
  3. The third is the ‘deluge of data’ and the problem of information overload, which inhibits action, clarity of thought, and decision-making.

The dangers

The real danger for marketers is that they become distracted from their real challenges. Too many marketers are sucked into spending too much of their precious time justifying their budgets, managing in-sourced resources and people, refereeing multi-agency processes and endlessly dissecting the data, rather than working to advance the brand conceptually.

The real work of modern-day marketers should still be measured in the value they add to the business by building superior customer experiences, and nurturing powerful and distinctive brands.

Contrary to many incorrect predictions and assumptions, brands still matter an enormous amount and the best CMOs understand their mandate to build more and more distinctive brands and that this requires communication that is both relevant and unexpected.

The CMO remains the custodian of the brand in the most-important way: defining what it means, what sets it apart and how will it resonate. We often talk about the north star. The CMO must be that kind of guiding light — determining what the brand does and doesn’t represent; deciding which agency (or agencies) can best deliver on that; and (the most-difficult part) being open to changing the brand, if necessary.

These are all key conceptual judgments — informed by data, yes, but not determined by it.

The Rubik’s cube

Somebody famous, whom I’ve now forgotten, once said, “Some companies plan years ahead, some for the next quarter, and some for right now… the best do all three.” That pretty much sums up the three horizons in the modern CMO’s role: