Being braver: the changing role of the CMO
A view from Gemma Greaves

Being braver: the changing role of the CMO

As The Marketing Society launches a new brand identity, its chief executive argues that great marketing leaders today are marked out by courage and confidence more than ever before.

There are so many things that have changed in the marketing industry in the 60 years since The Marketing Society was founded, but there is one constant.

The best chief marketing officers are always those who represent the customer in the boardroom. They understand that their role is making the customer’s voice heard in a business environment where other issues – short-term profits, the latest technology, world economics – shout louder for attention. 

Today’s CMO has to wear a lot of different hats: digital, data and tech guru, growth driver, customer voice, change-maker; the list goes on. Now, more than ever, juggling all these different roles, the CMO must also be brave.

Being a brave marketing leader means a number of things. It means being able to take chances, to go against the grain – it means being brave enough to stand up in the boardroom and be the lone voice on behalf of your customer.

So that’s why, as we enter our seventh decade, we have redefined The Marketing Society’s purpose to empower brave leaders and have launched a fresh new brand identity.

It was acceptable in the 50s

Let’s travel back 60 years. If you have seen Mad Men, you will have had some glimpses of this lost world. Marketers then were exclusively men and their consumers were mostly women – "housewives" whose job was to run the home.

The cool brands to work on were all owned by manufacturers: Persil, Fairy, Heinz, Cadbury, Kellogg. UK television had one commercial channel and the big brands’ campaigns quickly became famous. Everyone could sing: "A million housewives every day, pick up a can of beans and say: Beanz Meanz Heinz." 

The top brand marketers were additionally powerful, because retailing was still highly fragmented. Manufacturers’ brands achieved wide distribution through thousands of independent stores that were in a weak bargaining position. 

Supermarkets were in their infancy and had not yet established the "own brands", which later became such a problem for the first generation of marketers. Packaged goods marketing today is as much about developing sophisticated marketing plans for each retailer as it is about targeting the consumer.

The consumer movement was also only just beginning. In the late 1950s, consumers were still grateful for plentiful supplies of commodities that had been rationed in wartime. The Consumers Association was set up in 1957, but the concept of stakeholder management was still a long way off and top marketers then were only answerable to God and their shareholders.

Nice hat collection

Sixty years on, we have been through two retail revolutions, first with supermarkets and now digital. Consumers, meanwhile, have become wealthier, better-educated, more widely travelled, more discerning, more socially conscious and more diverse.

The cool brands to work on today are more likely to be global and more likely to be services that offer the convenience of Uber or Amazon. Today’s CMOs are more likely to have a direct dialogue with their consumers, but they may have less control over how that brand is delivered.

And, despite all the hats they have to wear, they may have a less important role in the company hierarchy than the brand managers of old. The life expectancy of the modern CMO is little more than two years – half that of their chief executive bosses. All of which calls for bravery, both to step forward and take on the top marketing role and then to truly understand what consumers are looking for and to point the way forward and persuade colleagues to follow.   

Over the past decade, The Marketing Society has transformed into a truly global community and we wanted to reflect this in our new identity – building on where we’ve been, but with a clear purpose for the future. 

With our design partners Bloom, we have created a bold, vibrant identity that captures our personality and vision. It reflects the wealth of opportunities we offer bringing to life the key elements of the organisation – having conversations that matter and building meaningful connections with each other.

Our industry is beginning to push boundaries, tackle taboos and think about the humanity in everything we do. This new narrative is changing something else. Brave marketing leaders aren’t just trying to grow their brands; they’re working out how to make the world a better place. It’s our responsibility. And It's time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Gemma Greaves is chief executive of The Marketing Society