Chief Marketing Officer: an agile lifeline in digital disruption

By Adam Tinworth

Marketing needs to up its game. It’s vital. It’s unavoidable. It’s central to the survival of businesses right now. And it all comes down to information.

Let’s face it — at heart, marketing is an information business. And like every single information-based businesses, it’s in the process of being radically transformed by the single greater communication method we’ve ever invented as a species - digital technology.

However much it might appear that marketing has adapted to the new age, it hasn't adapted enough. It might look, feel and behave differently — but the changes are superficial. In some ways, they’re an attempt to force the new world into old ways of working.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of product marketing. There’s been a notable attempt to retain the old model, through low level reinvention. The birth of the field of influencer marketing is a straight evolution of the old marketing and PR model - an interesting combination of earned and (increasingly) paid media. It’s a recognition that the internet has broken the old gatekeeper model, and a quest to find a new set of gatekeepers you can market through.

Old marketing wine in new bottles

But that’s just old wine in new bottles. And it’s a complex one, with some influencers failing to deliver, and new attempts to regulate the market emerging. Just in the last week, we’ve seen an new independent influencer marketing board emerge in the UK.

So, where once marketers courted journalists, they now court influencers. A different dynamic, a bigger range of people - but still the same basic process. And as for advertising, well, that’s been increasingly dominated by the so-called duopoly, with Google and Facebook dominating most of the spend. It’s not much of a creative life to just be deciding which messages those two disseminate Caught between the the influencer rabble and the programmatic behemoths, what role is there left for the marketer?

There is one. A critical one. And it’s a decptively simple one - because the biggest danger of the new face of marketing is that you’re putting a wall built of influencers and algorithms between yourself and the customer — and that’s not a healthy place to be. The new role fo the chief marketing officer is to exploit what’s there, while also working around it to talk directly to the customer.

The same tools used by the people the marketer has been courting can be used in the service of the company’s own marketing — especially when you remember that the best marketing is a two-way process. The skilled marketer takes in as much information as they put out — if not more.

Three essential CMO assets

The skilled CMO of the future needs to navigate the three pillars of customer understanding fluidity:

  • technology - because it continues to mediate our communications, and that’s only going to get more important as time goes by
  • data - because, if Facebook and Google have taught us nothing else, it’s that there’s a wealth of customer data out there that really can help us understand our customers better
  • customer behaviour - you need to understand - and predict - how customers will respond to changes in the product and technology landscape

This is at the heart of the difference between a VP Marketing role, and a genuine CMO role. The latter is about a genuine c-suite involvement, being the voice of marketing understanding and positioning at that level of executive decision making. You can no longer market that which other produce, but instead help steer the direction of the company, even if it’s radically different to what you were doing before. In an age where a postal DVD renter becomes one of the biggest content producers on the planet, and a computer company completely reshapes the music market, the role of the marketeer is more vital then ever, because the markets change and adapt so fast.

Here’s the hard bit: the CMO will also have to lead digital change. Of all teh c-suite executives, the CMO’s role at the one closest to the beating heart of the market itself means you’re best placed to detect the changes that means the company needs to rethink its food essential assumptions.

It’s a big job. It’s a critical job, Not everybody will be capable of making the jump upwards. How about you?


Photo by Werner Du plessis on Unsplash