My (amazing) vacation in the Galapagos Islands got me thinking about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Various species of the finch played a large role in the creation of Darwin’s theory, and while these birds look and act similarly, there are actually 14 different species—all of which evolved over time to survive harsh and unique conditions on the Galapagos. Now compare these nimble finches to giant tortoises: They can weigh up to 1,000 pounds without a pressing need to evolve. They are happy to live out their lives as they have for more than 4 million years as is. Interesting, right?
But what does this have to do with the role of today’s CMO? Plenty.
Just as Darwin’s finches faced dramatic changes in their environment that forced the evolution of their beaks to survive, the post-digital era we live in has turned the CMO role upside down. Today’s CMOs have never faced more opportunity or complexity, and firms now expect CMOs to be experts not only in brand and customer acquisition, but also technology, data analytics, and customer experience (CX).
To survive and thrive in our new era, today’s CMOs cannot have a giant tortoise mentality. Instead, they must resemble Darwin’s mighty finches and evolve to master this new marketing universe—a data-driven, highly segmented, customer-centric, and omnichannel world.
Forrester partnered with Heidrick & Struggles for the “2016 Evolved CMO report,” which surveyed 275 CMOs to assess how their roles have evolved and to understand the keys for success moving forward. The research clearly shows that evolved CMOs who commit to understanding customers and to driving that philosophy throughout their organizations with a customer-obsessed mindset are those who can take charge in the C-suite. Here’s how:
• Act as true business leaders on par with C-suite peers: After years of aspiring to be treated as more than functional experts, CMOs are finally proving their business chops. They are moving beyond brand, communications, and marketing execution to better quantify the impact of marketing’s work in business terms. Tasked with delivering against profit-and-loss metrics, our survey results show that CMOs are increasingly partnering with their peers to drive business and brand results. As they do so, today’s evolved CMOs are leading the charge to understand customers’ changing buying needs and potential external disruptions.
• Assume responsibility for firm-wide CX: Today’s empowered customers have as much to say about what a brand stands for as the firm itself. CMOs understand that they now must transform into a customer-centric organization that recognizes brand as an emotionally resonant experience that transcends product and service transactions. Evolved CMOs recognize that delivering on the brand promise means ensuring that all customer experiences align to a common brand vision. To back this transformation, Forrester data shows that two-thirds of CMOs now have responsibility for CX, and 44% would like to further grow their influence in customer experience.
• Prepare for digital disruption: Connected cars, RFID-enabled product tracking, and the Internet of Things are leading a digital revolution that will affect every industry. Nearly half of firms believe that digital has already disrupted their industries, and just more than half believe that they will see more disruption in 2016. Forty-two percent of CMOs recognize the importance of building strong peer relationships with the head of product and research and development to build an innovation pipeline that helps the enterprise prepare for and respond to digital disruption.
• Enhance influence into transformative areas of the company: As they get comfortable with their expanded CX responsibilities, evolved CMOs are eager for even more influence in their firms’ transformation. Our survey results show that 18% seek greater involvement in business strategy, while 12% focus on business unit/P&L strategy.
Winning in the age of the customer requires a fundamental reset of a company’s operating model. Evolved CMOs are championing this transformation and taking on the challenges of culture and talent management, process redesign, as well as data and business technology realignment. Serving as the nexus of customer, market, and competitive knowledge, evolved CMOs sit in the cat bird’s seat and act as the customer advocate across the enterprise by bringing their knowledge about customers, markets, and competition to bear on defining the experiences that can best win, serve, and retain customers.
As a result, expect evolved CMOs’ stature and credibility in the C-suite to grow as smart CEOs increasingly depend on them for the customer insights that firms need to inform business growth strategies.