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?
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:
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.
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:
Staying on top of a world of always-on conversations, engagement and influence enabled by technology. Being part of culture. Being tactical; being in the social feeds. Ensuring day-to-day accuracy, inspiration, rigour and responsiveness. These, often, require the management of crises.
Developing campaign-based interventions that drive excitement and value, and get the feet in store and stock out of the store. This is about driving sales and getting results.
Building purpose. Ensuring sustainability. Driving long-term brand salience. Making a brand part of the lexicon. Making a brand famous. Marketers need to ensure that everything done in the short- and medium-term is part of the long-term whole, which builds brand value.
This is a tough task and CMOs are entitled to demand that their agencies work with them in ways that make it easier. They should expect responses that orientate themselves towards the CMO’s realities and challenges.
We have to accept that everything, especially agency time, requires justification, explanation and outcomes in the required format for the company’s budget beast. We have to find ways to demonstrate that what we do (or want to do) warrants investment and delivers results. And we have to deliver the kind of work which elevates the brand in ways that builds trust at C-suite level in the CMO.
So I suppose the question really is not how the role of the CMO has changed but how have we shifted to meet the new challenges those CMOs face?
Luca Gallarelli, MD of Ogilvy Cape Town.