The Shape-Shifting CMO

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Survival as a chief marketer in 2016 and beyond will depend on being highly adaptable and maintaining a deep understanding of today's capricious customers.

The CMO of 2016 and beyond is a chameleon. Survival as a chief marketer will depend on being highly adaptable, having the ability to blend with changeable surroundings, and maintaining a deep understanding of today's capricious customers. If that sounds like a tall order, it is. Still, it's the reality for the chief marketers of today and tomorrow.

In our February 2016 issue cover story, “The CMO of the Future,” writer Eric Krell reveals the attributes that matter most to CMOs' continued success. He discusses five key areas that, when mastered, can help lead chief marketers down the path not only to marketing success, but also to becoming a CEO or board member.

Curious about whether there would be a consensus on the most important skill or trait a CMO needs today, I asked my networks on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for their thoughts. Not surprisingly, there wasn't just one attribute that dominated the conversation. Instead, there were several answers that formed related themes.

A linchpin trait is emotional intelligence—the ability of a person to understand and use their own and others' emotional information to guide their actions. Tim Sanders, author of Love Is the Killer App, stated this emphatically. Several other respondents called out empathy (the ability to understand and share someone else's feelings) and leadership as essential, both of which tie closely to emotional intelligence. Two other characteristics linked with these are an aptitude for change management and the proclivity to collaborate. As Chief Customer LLC Founder Ingrid Lindberg pointed out, “Marketing will not succeed as a standalone entity. CMOs are more dependent than ever on CIOs, CTOs, privacy officers, chief digital officers, and customer experience officers.”

This reliance on others connects directly with another skill that several straw poll respondents mentioned: an affinity for data—or, as eMarketing Strategy President Ruth Stevens put it, “Fearlessness around data.” But not just any data will do. Customer knowledge was a recurring theme. “CMOs…need to develop one view of their customers; increasing fragmentation of customer data across channels will require that,” said Raju Malhotra, SVP of products at Conversant. “If [CMOs] fail to develop this within their marketing organization, it will be hard, if not impossible, to be customer centric.”

Another set of complementary traits that respondents cited are risk taking and a penchant for innovation. “With how fast technology is growing, if a company doesn't innovate, [it] will lose out to the competition,” asserted Liz Pedro, director of content and advocacy at Mitel. “2016 will be a year where…this will really differentiate the winners from the losers.”

Collectively, these seemingly disparate, yet closely connected, attributes underlie what CMOs need to connect customers with their brands on a deeper level and ensure their longevity in that position. “Understanding what really drives decisions and sparks intrigue in the deeply complex consumer mind” is what will guarantee CMOs' long-term success, said Jeanette McMurtry, CMO of e4marketing. “It's not what we learned in Marketing 101 classes.” 

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