Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
April 11, 2024

Why This Might Actually Be the 'Best of Times' in Marketing

When the “chief growth officer” position first sprang up more than a decade ago, the marketing profession had a bit of an existential crisis; same again when “chief digital officers” arose in the 2010s; and, in a few high-profile cases over the past few years, when major companies completely rethought the role.

That’s why I’ve tried to look at the role’s latest developments — particularly some high-profile eliminations of the CMO role in the past year — through a more historical lens.

For one, every company’s situation is unique, and there were some specific, idiosyncratic reasons that led to these role eliminations. But the broader story is that the corporate marketing function and the CMO role have both become incredibly complex over the past 10 years. This ongoing evolution is a reflection of the breadth, intricacy and increased specialization required of modern marketing leadership.

An increasingly complex CMO role

The “modern CMO” is expected to be so many things: brand visionary, product marketing guru, data scientist, marketing technologist, lifecycle marketing expert. Inevitably there will be some fragmentation and realignment of the role. Indeed, when our clients consider name changes for their CMO role, it’s with a recognition that the word “marketing” means so much today.

Further, what’s seldom stated — yet which we are seeing from our vantage point as leadership advisers with the world’s leading companies — is the significant upgrade we’ve seen in the marketing leadership role taking place in some interesting arenas.

The first area that stands out is middle-market companies, many of which are backed by private equity. These companies see marketing as a critical lever for transforming the business and driving value creation. Think of the companies that traditionally leave a pamphlet on your front porch promoting their services; many of those companies are now embracing “modern” digital marketing strategies to reach potential customers.

Another is in industries such as healthcare that have traditionally been laggards in adopting marketing, but now see it is important to their long-term commercial viability. These companies are looking outside their boundaries and seeing parallels other industries (such as hospitality). For healthcare companies, the role is evolving significantly from an upper-funnel marketing communications job to a full-funnel, demand-driving, digital, patient experience-centric position.

Last but not least, as we like to remind people often, the CMO tenure data often cited as evidence of the function’s struggles actually demonstrates some of its strength. More than one-third of Fortune 500 CMOs are responsible for more than marketing in their roles, overseeing other areas such as communications. And more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 CMOs who left the position either were promoted to a new role within their current company, or moved to a new company in a lateral or step-up position.

‘The best of times, the worst of times…’

I recently had the pleasure of speaking on the CMO Confidential podcast with Mike Linton, who selected the Dickens line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” as the theme of the episode.

As I told him, while the “worsts” often command the headlines, there’s also plenty of evidence that it may also be a “best of times,” as leaders today recognize that the marketing function and the CMO role are more important ever.