Have CMOs become too much like chief communications officers?

WPP chief thinks role of CMOs is becoming marginalised.

Read: speaking at Institute for Real Growth launch in London
Read: speaking at Institute for Real Growth launch in London

When WPP chief executive Mark Read warned that "a lot of" chief marketing officers are taking on duties more akin to that of a chief communications officer, he echoed previous concerns that the role of the CMO within client organisations is becoming increasingly diminished.

The seven traditional principles of marketing – product, price, promotion, place, packaging, positioning and people – are, Read counselled, being replaced by a preponderance on communications alone, formerly an element (albeit an important one) of their job function.

As a way of potentially alienating WPP’s client base, it was certainly a bold statement. But Read made the announcement to an audience of marketers (or should that be "communicators"?) at the London launch of the Institute for Real Growth, a WPP-backed organisation that is developing ideas to drive business growth and cope with disruption. The implication was that, to prevent CMOs from becoming little more than glorified adjuncts of the PR department, WPP was the ideal partner.

But is his original premise correct?

Craig Inglis

Partner and customer director, John Lewis & Partners

I think what Mark Read is saying is that it is vital to the future growth of businesses that CMOs play a truly central role. I couldn’t agree more. When the role is reduced to one focused primarily on communications, it underplays the skills the CMO has and what businesses need. To generate growth, CMOs must drive customer centricity in their organisations and create compelling, innovative propositions that delight customers. That means being prepared to take a stand on behalf of the customer, creating the conditions for creativity to thrive, driving through change and, crucially, combining left- and right-brain thinking. Only then can the communications thinking begin."

Pete Markey

Chief marketing officer, TSB

I don’t agree that CMOs are turning into chief communications officers. In fact, I think the opposite is true. My experience is that marketing as a function is being asked more than ever to step forward and champion the customer and help use customer insight and intelligence to ensure a meaningful and sustainable brand positioning. CMOs must bring the customer into the boardroom and drive strong and sustainable commercial performance both today and tomorrow. Now is a vital time for CMOs to battle short-termism and to help shape brands that are not just effective now but effective in the future.

Suki Thompson

Chief executive and founding partner, Oystercatchers

Last year, an automotive EMEA CMO told me he spent little time looking at creative or innovation. Internal meetings and corporate BS filled his days. So, in many ways, Mark Read is right. My experience is that marketing is often focused on poorly reorganising teams, calculating responsibility for each step of the customer journey rather than internal collaboration, customer focus and working effectively with agencies. Agencies are trying to second-guess clients whilst changing themselves. In this maelstrom, it’s time to take decisive actions based on data, environments of brilliant creative thinking, new ways to help teams perform at their best, measurement and the pace of modern consumers. Now, CMOs need to reignite their marketing mojo.

Sam Day

Chief marketing officer, Confused.com

Marketing has always struggled with its identity in organisations. Everyone has an opinion on it, because it's so visible. Being intrinsically linked with the wider business strategy and commercial proposition is vital.

At Confused.com, we're rebuilding our story, starting with the brand promise at a senior level. Leading that conversation was absolutely my role as CMO. That's now the blueprint for product development, commercial partner conversations and customer communications. And to ensure this blueprint is filtered through the company, we have dedicated marketing "virtual" teams that sit across all functions. They ensure the brand promise is front of mind at every touchpoint, while delivering a tailored marketing approach.

The key is to get everyone in the business bought into the brand promise, so it aligns seamlessly with the business proposition.

Victoria Fox

Chief executive, AAR

The task for a CMO is to be the voice of the customer in all business decisions, focusing on the end to end customer journey and from a business perspective be responsible for bottom-line growth and profit. Communications is one part of this. This extensive remit is challenging for CMOs and is another example of digital disruption. Every part of the industry has been on a steep learning curve, transforming. This is no different for the CMO. The rise of CCO title in organisations would suggest that there is a question whether this extensive remit is being met. But changing the title doesn’t change the fact that marketing needs to be responsible for bottom-line growth. In fact, it elevates the role of marketing further in the business. We are seeing more and more CMOs firmly grasping this wide remit and, as this happens, there will be less need to introduce new titles and less challenge that CMOs have become more like chief communications officers. We must also be careful not to relegate the role of brand, communications and engagement in this extensive remit as it’s still a vitally important part of the mix.

James Murphy

Co-founder, Adam & Eve/DDB

Mark Read makes a fair point. It seems the huge growth and innovation in marketing technologies seems to have had a polarising effect on CMOs. Some have grasped the ability to do much bigger and more powerful marketing, influencing the entire customer journey way before and way beyond just the communication. These CMOs aren’t just communicating a brand promise; they’re making it live through product, service and experience design. They’re building real growth and long-term value. Simultaneously, some CMOs have merely embraced innovation as a comfort blanket, using performance-marketing technologies to deliver predictable short-term results at the expense of long-term value creation. Perhaps this placates their CFO and procurement, but shareholders should be asking whether marketing is creating real value. 

Paul Troy

Marketing consultant

This is true or not depends on where the marketer is sitting. Oversized marketing organisations in financial, insurance and telcos have created specialists that lead only in marketing communications. Online disruptors changed this world order by reinventing the business model, customer experience and even the way it’s marketed with performance channels. To regain power, CMOs need to own strategy and product propositions to contribute to the wider commercial success. It’s time to break free and recapture the high ground in consumer marketing.

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