Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

NDA Viewpoints: Dmexco Insights – The changing role of the CMO

By Paige O’Neill, CMO, Sitecore

A top calendar highlight for Europe’s leading digital marketers, at Dmexco this year, the theme which rang true to me was the ever-evolving role of the CMO and the ongoing impact of technology. In fact, this topic was the focus of a panel discussion I undertook with fellow panellists — CMOs from Publicis Spaient, Escada and Purina PetCare. Here, I address my top three takeaways from the event and why marketers need to take note of the change afoot in our industry.

The role of the CMO is changing

The general consensus amongst my peers was that the CMO’s role has become increasingly broad. This change was partly a result of the growing number of channels now available for brands to communicate with customers and vice versa, but also due to the range of marketing technologies available to improve these interactions.

Today, CMOs have to be the master of many competencies. They are expected to drive digital transformation efforts across the business, be able to derive real business insights from the data the marketing team uncover within complex data sets, choose the best marketing tools to meet business requirements and ensure the tools can be integrated within the company’s complex technology stack. The list is endless.

However, there were two clearly distinguishable schools of thoughts regarding the changing role of the CMO at Dmexco. On one hand, some believe that the role has actually become too broad and that it should be more focused on traditional marketing tasks, such as managing demand generation and the overall brand image.

This group championed the idea that the CMO’s role should be carved up into different specialities, giving some roles, such as a Chief Digital Officer, a specific focus on technology. This seems to be a trend many companies are experimenting with.

For example McDonald’s isn’t directly replacing its CMO role, but instead will have an SVP of Marketing Technology – who will work specifically with personalisation and AI software and report directly to the company’s CIO. Alongside this role will also be the SVP of Global Marketing, who will work on the non-technological elements and report directly to the CEO.

On the other hand, some believe that the role should remain broad and all-encompassing. This group, which I am a part of, believe that as CMOs are closest to the customer, they are therefore best placed to drive customer experience strategy and understand how this strategy should fit within the company’s digital transformation plans.

The need to make brands feel more human

Another key question that was asked during Dmexco was around how marketers can make brands feel more human and closely aligned with the wants and needs of customers, even when we are using more complex technology to try and personalise customer experience.

Many brands are now using technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to try and better understand and interact with the customer; collecting data from every touchpoint in an individual’s purchase journey and using it to target them with specific product recommendations or relevant deals.

Technology also allows brands to get more immediate feedback about customers’ interactions on a website, links they follow or where they leave the purchase journey. All this insight helps to build better, stronger and more informed relationships with individuals.

There’s clear evidence that this can be an effective strategy — research has found that 91% of European and American consumers are more likely to shop with brands who provide relevant offers and recommendations.

However, there’s always a risk that if the technology isn’t used in the right way, or the different technologies remain disparate and disjointed throughout the business, it could actually have the opposite effect. If brands aren’t able to deliver a truly personalised experience for customers, offering irrelevant content or offers that don’t apply to the customer’s needs or tastes, then the relationship will be damaged. In fact, our research found that almost all (96%) of consumers believe there is such thing as ‘bad personalisation’, especially when brands use out-of-date customer information or get their personal details wrong, for example. As a result, if personalisation doesn’t meet the high standards that today’s customers expect, it may turn them away from the brand entirely.

In order to make a brand, and the experience customers receive when shopping with them, feel more human, it’s essential that marketers working with advanced technologies are well equipped to collect, analyse and derive real insights from data and use it to offer customers experiences that are truly valuable.

Digital transformation is no longer a ‘nice to have’

It’s commonly accepted across the marketing industry, and across organisations in general, that digital transformation is something all businesses need to embrace and strive towards in order to remain competitive and better support customers. Brands that aren’t evolving digitally will soon be left behind.  

While the discussion around digital transformation often focuses on the need to invest in new technology and tools – from cloud-based platforms to AI — many of the experts at Dmexco discussed the importance of investing in the company’s cultural transformation in order to support digital advancement.

For example, during our panel discussion, Hubert Wieser, Regional Director, Central Region at Purina PetCare, spoke about how the company has embraced cultural change. Wieser shared that their business had secured support from the HR team who now provides training for employees to help them understand and work with new technologies.

As a result, the company has been able to ensure that teams are willing and ready to embrace digital tools. This is important, especially as teams need to understand that true cultural transformation is a multi-year journey. It must be treated as an ongoing process while new and more advanced technologies are put in place.

To summarise, it seems clear that all three of these insights are heavily underpinned by the effective use of advancing technology, and that tech is only going to become more important to marketing efforts.

CMOs must stay on the cutting edge of technology while remaining close to their customers, and bring their teams along with them to make sure they are using technology in the right way to please customers. Only then will the team be able to uncover truly valuable insights that can also deliver real benefits to the business.