Is the CMO Role Under Threat? What Will Replace It?

The Gap CMO is out after only 11 months, which is only the latest in a series of CMO departures that occurred in 2019. A statement from Gap opaquely stated that the role needed to be “redefined.” Gap has been suffering from falling global sales for the last several quarters, and bringing in a high-powered marketing executive didn’t seem to turn things around quickly enough. This has been happening across companies big and small. Expectations start out high but quickly sour as profits lag. The average tenure of a CMO is about two years.

At DMN we discussed the future of the CMO last year, and newly into 2020, things aren’t looking healthy. There seem to be several problems with the CMO role, and how it’s used in a company. Oftentimes, CMOs are brought in as a hail Mary, when things have been going south for a while, when too many things are going wrong in too many departments. Some potential pitfalls for the CMO role are as follows:

  •    The CMO role is too narrow in scope. A CMO can’t fix everything, and shouldn’t be expected to. Toxic work culture, inept leadership, a broken operational process – these are all things that contribute to a company’s problems, and it can’t be fixed by a CMO waving a magic wand and a brilliant campaign strategy. Righting a ship takes time, and it can’t happen in a day. A single C-suite executive cannot save a sinking company.
  •      Brands are slow to adapt, and they adapt inconsistently. Legacy brands may be reluctant to adapt to the rapidly changing customer expectations, and top-level leadership may be hesitant to institute top-down change. Even if a CMO comes in guns blazing, but can’t get past institutional
  •      Marketing isn’t actually the problem. An organization may have incorrectly diagnosed the problem as poor marketing when there may be something else amiss, or may be focusing on marketing at the expense of something else.

Here are some possible outcomes for the CMO as it faces reincarnation in the coming months and years, and customer experience and revenue generation take a larger role in marketing tech companies:

  •      Chief Growth Officer. This is the likeliest successor to the current Chief Marketing Officer role. Because growth is a more abstract term that can be tailored to a specific organization’s goals
  •       Chief Revenue Officer Revenue is the name of the game. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. As I wrote a while ago, sales, marketing, operations and finance are increasingly aligned and integrated – so it makes sense that at Chief Revenue Officer would oversee the whole shop.
  •      Chief CX Officer Every vendor and their mother claims to deliver personalized, tailored experiences, but some do it better than others, and some are farther along in their integration than others. A Chief Customer Experience Officer can be in charge of every and all aspect of customer experience, which touches sales, marketing, technology, design, and content.

Marketing is expanding beyond campaigns, brand positioning, and awareness. The focus is now on audiences, experiences, personalization, and technology operations. Marketers can position themselves to embrace this inevitable change by learning how to be cross-functional across different teams, growing comfortable with emerging technology, and committing to the long-term health of a company rather than planning and executing campaigns. 

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