The CMO role was already morphing into more of a strategic and business-connected position long before anyone heard of the coronavirus. Nowhere is that more evident than in the plethora of new titles that are essentially CMO roles by another name. Some of these new incarnations include chief revenue officer, chief innovation officer, chief growth officer, chief experience officer, chief brand officer, and even chief commercial officer. While these new titles have led many pundits to pronounce the CMO role dead, Korn Ferry’s Fleit says they prove just the opposite. “These roles are about driving business performance and transformation, which is at the heart of marketing,” she says. “If anything, the CMO is growing more important in the C-suite.”
But, to use marketing vernacular, it hasn’t been a seamless and frictionless transition. Korn Ferry research shows, for example, that 40% of CMOs cite strategic thinking as the biggest capability gap their teams face. On top of that, layoffs, furloughs, and budget cuts caused by the coronavirus are creating a massive strain on marketing teams. Taken together, the result is a need for CMOs who can operate through ambiguity, have the learning agility to move between roles and teams, and can engage and inspire others to action.
To be sure, Fleit expects one of the virus’s biggest impacts on marketing will be a move away from specialization. Before organizations started rationalizing their marketing teams, specialists occupied an ever-narrow range of activities.
There are specialists for social media, search engine optimization, content development, audience and community development, brand strategy, and data analysis, to name just a few. Fleit says the move toward specialization created a leadership gap, exposing few marketing professionals to the broad range of skills and experience needed to be effective leaders.
The pandemic provides a way for CMOs—and their organizations, more broadly—to close that gap. Out of necessity, marketing teams were forced to be more agile, flexing to different roles as needed and getting exposure and making connections to other parts of the business. And that opens up an opportunity for organizations to strengthen the CMO function for the future. By using the pandemic to identify high-potential marketing talent now, organizations can develop their operational skills and get them profit-and-loss responsibility and leadership training after the crisis. Post-Covid, Fleit says leaders shouldn’t look at talent role by role, but instead evaluate them based on their ability to adapt and innovate to accomplish immediate and near-term goals that drive business and solve consumer needs. “More of the focus should be on getting high-potential marketing talent the right kind of business, leadership, and management training,” she says.
Or, as Mastercard’s Rajamannar says, CMOs should not be looking at or thinking of themselves simply as functional heads. “CMOs must influence every area they can, not just what is in their purview,” he says. That’s a change that will likely keep the CMO role alive long after COVID is gone.
For more information, contact Caren Fleit at firstname.lastname@example.org, Zach Peikon at email@example.com, or Kathy Vrabeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.