Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The role of the CMO in a post-pandemic world

By Michele Morelli, SVP, Global Marketing Strategy, Toluna

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role was already in a state of flux, with several high-profile brands moving away from the position. Early this year, Gap’s CMO left without a direct replacement. Shopify’s chief marketer departed in February 2020, and the ecommerce firm announced it would not fill the vacancy. Uber went through two CMOs in 2019, ultimately leaving the CMO role unoccupied.

Fast forward to March 2020, and the CMO role experienced a resurgence. As global economies begin adjusting to a new normal, businesses are making strategic moves which signal the CMO now has a stronger voice at the table.

Goldman Sachs just hired its first Chief Marketing Officer and VMWare, McDonalds and Merrell have also recently onboarded new Chief Marketing Officers. And the CMO role has changed. It is now the business-critical link between multiple arms of a company and is integral to business development. The role is no longer simply about being great at marketing strategy: the CMO is now a direct influence on business growth and a critical driver of transformation.

COVID-19 has changed too how consumers shop and completely upended even seemingly predictive pre-pandemic behaviours. How consumers spend their money, what they want to buy, what they can afford to buy, and how they feel about purchasing certain products or services has all changed.  

In turn, businesses have altered their advertising spend. Across the board, advertising spend has been reduced or completely halted, with online being the most impacted. The UK advertising market is expected to shrink by £4.2bn (16.7%) this year due to the coronavirus lockdown. Consumer media consumption has also completely pivoted, with Video on Demand (VOD) and paid subscription services such as Netflix experiencing soaring subscriber increases and popularity. And social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are also enjoying significant upticks in usage.

As consumer behaviours and media consumption change, brands must change their message and the way they communicate that message to consumers. That makes marketing – and the role of CMO – more critical than ever in this ever-changing landscape.

Businesses realise they must re-assess their marketing and communications activities and change how they listen to their consumers, keeping a constant finger on the pulse of the market. And it’s the CMO who must lead this change. The CMO not only maintains brand health but can also help safeguard or increase market share. Their role has always been customer centric, never more so than in a COVID-19 shaped world.

Toluna’s biweekly COVID-19 barometer that has provided accurate and timely information on consumers’ perceptions throughout the pandemic, shows there’s a real opportunity for businesses to change their focus and, with it, their marketing tactics. For instance, our data, which is generated by a community panel of 30+ million members, revealed that UK consumers who haven’t had access to their usual product or service have tried a new product or new brand during the pandemic.

This is a massive opportunity for brand marketers to steal share and start to build a loyal base. With the right messaging that is authentic to the brand – and partnerships – the CMO will be able to maintain customer loyalty and increase profitability. As consumer sentiment changes daily, one of the most important things a CMO can do is leverage real time analytics to understand this constantly evolving sentiment and make intelligent moves that meet tangible consumer needs.

This real time access combined with a nimble, creative marketing and media strategy is crucial to the world as we now know it; a world completely redefined by the COVID-19 pandemic. For a CMO, the concept of planning your media and messaging months in advance, has completely evolved.

2020 has ushered in a new era of the agile CMO, propelled by an intense need to understand ever-changing consumers. With an increased demand for flexible media that can adapt messaging quickly and a greater emphasis on owned channels and email, savvy CMOs understand they must completely change the way they market to clients.

Disruption has always been a popular topic in the industry. We would wax lyrical about becoming comfortable with change, but that change was never instant – it occurred over a manageable period of time. Little did we know that all the talk and preparation for change was simply a dress rehearsal. The Chief Marketing Officer is now in the driver’s seat.

CMOs must now be nimble enough to capitalise on the activities and approaches that will connect their brand to today’s landscape and consumer sentiment, and allow them to change direction at any time. Recognising our businesses now operate in what is essentially a live event is the first step to creating a successful blueprint for post pandemic business success.


[1] Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report,