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Tomorrow's CMO: Chief Magic or Logic Officer? - 2014 CMO Summit Highlights

“Have the geeks won?” This bold question was among the first to be posed at Spencer Stuart’s 12th annual CMO Summit, held on May 1, 2014, in New York City, and served to spark a follow-up discussion about the exploration of big data at last year’s event. With the sheer amount of data and unprecedented access to information afforded by digital, emphasis on analytical ability for marketing leaders has grown dramatically. But as the pendulum has swung toward the analytical, there is a danger that CMOs may be overlooking other vital skills, namely the powerful intangibles of creativity and innovation. This year, top marketers across industries convened to discuss this duality of the CMO role and whether the marketing leaders of tomorrow will need to possess more logic or magic.


Video highlights and attendee reactions from the 2014 CMO Summit panel discussion.

See the results of this year’s CMO Summit survey.

Visit our CMO Summit page for highlights from previous discussions.


The 2014 CMO Summit panel featured Lisa Bacus, executive vice president and global chief marketing officer of Cigna; Lauren P. Flaherty, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of CA Technologies; and Jeff Jones, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Target. Below are a few highlights from the discussion:

  • “It’s an ‘and’ world.” As one panelist aptly noted, the issue of creativity and analytics cannot be an either-or proposition for marketers. Audience members agreed: 62% of CMO Summit attendees said both creativity and analytical ability will be equally important for marketing leaders in the future; more than three-quarters (77%) consider themselves both creative and analytical. Another panelist is a self-described “analytical geek,” but observed that the analytical and creative must work in tandem, with insights gleaned from data helping to inform the creative.

  • A great idea will often beat analytics. When a message is powerful and emotionally resonant, empirical data does not enter the equation for many CMOs: “I still haven’t had an algorithm make the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” remarked one panelist. At times, marketers have to rely on visceral gut instincts and personal judgment even if they fly in the face of hard data. For example, while analysis of data showed it was the ideal time for one company to launch a new campaign, the CMO decided against running it because it would seem out of touch amid recent, unexpected market developments. While analytics can help marketers to pinpoint the perfect message or moment to deliver a message, this precision can be paralyzing and, sometimes, even counterproductive. Waiting for the ideal time or idea may mean losing out on an opportunity and, in these cases, action trumps perfection.

  • “CMOs need to be über advocates for the customer.” Companies live or die by how well they target and serve the customer. Digital allows marketing leaders to understand more about the customer than ever before, from the exact time the consumer is using a product to the instant a positive (or negative) experience is shared  on social media. However, it is important for marketing leaders to view customers as more than sales figures or target demographics. According to one panelist, “You can’t call yourself a marketer unless you’re looking out for the best interest of the customer. The customer’s voice needs to be heard in every decision.”

  • Marketing teams today are not striking the right balance between magic and logic. Only 19% of CMO Summit attendees believe their marketing teams strike the right balance between creativity and analytics. More than half (54%) of attendees said that their teams are more creatively focused and 27% consider their teams more analytically focused. Interestingly, the respondents in our pre-summit survey had the inverse perspective: 52% reported their teams are more analytical and 29% said their teams are more creative. The panel emphasized that both orientations will continue to be important and that marketing teams need an “orchestration of talents,” with both extremes in the room.

  • Future CMOs will need to go beyond creativity and analytical ability. In our pre-summit survey, strategic mindset was the No. 1 desired skill for current and future CMOs, and that sentiment was echoed by the panelists. One panelist noted that strategic thinking is the foundation for understanding the creative and analytical, and said she also seeks marketing leaders who are curious and passionate about the customer. While the laundry list of desired skills for marketing leaders has continued to grow over time — analytical orientation, creativity, strategic mindset, change leadership and digital expertise, to name a few — 89% of survey respondents believe it will be realistic to expect to find this full range of skills within one person in the future. However, when zeroing in on building the marketing team’s digital expertise, one panelist argued that it is unrealistic to expect one person to be a true expert given how all-encompassing and expansive digital is. Instead of relying on one individual leader to carry the digital mantle, the panelists are seeking multiple leaders with specific domain expertise who can lift the digital knowledge of the entire marketing team.

  • Agility is becoming even more critical for marketing leaders. In such a volatile and fast-paced environment, panelists agreed that agility is quickly becoming even more vital for marketing leaders. One participant has found success by placing the most agile leaders in generalist roles versus specialized ones because they are better equipped to handle varied responsibilities. To improve their teams’ agility, CMOs should look to technology companies, whose industry demands rapid responses for survival, as models of adaptability. Another panelist cautioned that rapidity alone is not enough: “Speed is different than agility — we want to go in new directions, not the same way fast.”

  • Organizations need to do more to develop future marketing leaders. The majority (87%) of CMO Summit attendees indicated that organizations are not doing a good job of training and developing future marketing leaders. In the audience survey, 40% said increasing collaboration with other functions is the most effective way to develop marketers with the skills they need in the future, followed by rotating marketing talent to other functions (27%). To build skills for the future, one panelist’s previous company established a marketing leadership program, assessing both the entire marketing organization and individuals, who then received online training to foster their strengths and build expertise in weaker areas. Senior leaders used the comprehensive information about skill gaps and incorporated it into development programs. Collaboration with HR leaders can also help immensely in developing transformational leaders, from providing company-wide education about how to articulate the brand strategy to identifying hallmarks of high-potential marketers. Other organizations have partnered with prestigious educational institutions to help create benchmarks and then provided training to the marketing teams with both online and on-campus sessions. In addition to boosting competencies, one CMO noted the positive impact training efforts had on talent happiness and retention because it conveyed the message that the company was investing in their future.

  • Organizations need to encourage risk-taking. Encouraging talent to take risks is how big ideas happen — incrementalism does not get you there. Thus, CMOs must help create a culture in which failure is accepted. They should also welcome new ideas (big or small) and be prepared to “open source” innovation beyond the function. One panelist presented a customer problem to the entire organization, allowing employees across levels and areas to present ideas for a solution. In addition, companies that have undergone M&A activity have a unique opportunity to inject the organization with new perspectives if the culture is receptive to new ways of thinking and collaboration.   

  • The CMO is ultimately the chief growth officer. Regardless of industry, the main call to action for CMOs of today and tomorrow is to drive growth. “The Holy Grail question” for marketing leaders, according to one panelist, is, “What is the impact on the business?” CMOs need to demonstrate the value of the function’s actions throughout the organization, with the understanding that efforts are not equivalent to outcomes — and that it takes a combination of magic and logic to achieve results.
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