The CMO role has evolved significantly. No longer is it just about marketing; now more than ever the role requires being myopic about the consumer, fanatical about innovation and a leader in the C-suite. The credentials of a great CMO have similarly evolved: Top CMOs perform a balancing act of being a visionary leader in times of complexity and uncertainty, tend to the creative while prioritizing the data, and establish innovation platforms while pursuing real-time flexibility.
Job one for a CMO is influencing—so they need to have relationships in a particular relevant category. But increasingly CMOs succeed when they have an eclectic background that ranges from deep strategy, team leadership, PR through to operations, commercial acumen and information technology know-how. An excellent example is JC Penney’s recent hiring of Jan Hodges as senior VP of sales promotion (a role that has similar duties to the vacant CMO role). Hodges spent most of her career rising through the ranks of merchandising and managing JC Penney’s salon business and has never held a formal marketing role.
Eclectic backgrounds are also powerful in business-to-business marketing; Beth Comstock, CMO at GE, has diverse experience at GE running a line of business and heading innovation. Beth is an excellent example of the adaptability that’s critical for CMOs as they embrace and navigate myriad industries and channels. After all, marketing executives need to be on top of new technologies to engage consumers and create loyalty.
And CMOs need to be multifaceted to manage the bewildering array of marketing and data with a bigger emphasis on revenue that can be directly tied to sales, versus traditional big-idea brand-building approaches. Patricia Perez-Ayala, CMO at Avon, was a long-time employee at Procter & Gamble who held a variety of non-marketing roles there; she also logged several years as general manager for emerging markets in LATAM and Europe. Perez-Ayala has no direct-to-consumer experience, but does boast more than 20 years of global experience, including business strategy and operations.
Creating effective marketing campaigns are much harder now as everyone is in everyone else’s back yard. Just look at the saturated credit card market: Everyone from Google to Paypal is piling in. To tackle the encroachment, broad experience is something that Harit Talwar, formerly CMO of Discover, brought in spades to that role, having spent many years with Citi and Discover in a variety of non-marketing roles, from operations to credit cards. As he put it, “you need to look at performance and potential, rather than the straight-jacket approach of only experience.”
Performance and potential is the intention behind Kohl’s hiring Michelle Gass as their chief customer officer. Gass had started her career at P&G, but spent a long time at Starbucks in several non-marketing roles ranging from a category manager through to a lieutenant for Howard Schultz. Key to success for the eclectic CMO? The flexibility and savvy to apply past experiences to new and uncharted waters and further bolster marketing as a growth driver.
Additionally, CMOs need to be the voice of their organization and a change agent able to transform the business. Barry Judge’s recent hire as CMO for LivingSocial illustrates the value of an eclectic career path as well. Judge, former Best Buy CMO, possesses broad expertise in both online and offline marketing– crucial for an online business like LivingSocial.
As the agency-of-record concept dies, CMOs need to broaden their expertise well beyond traditional marketing and promotions by developing the coveted technology and social-media skills that enhance customer understanding and customer experience. Expertise that was not lacking when Stephen Gillette, former head of digital and CIO at Starbucks became executive VP and president at Best Buy Digital prior to becoming CMO (he is now president of Symantec). Compounding the digital challenge is that while two-thirds of CMOs are planning to enhance their social-media strategy this year, only 18% believe they have the skills and know-how to fully exploit the digital customer engagement.
Nick Hahn, managing director of Vivaldi Partners, a consulting firm that works with many CMOs, sums it up best: “The [CMO’s] skill set now needs to be more fluid, with an understanding of the different ways of operating marketing levers across the whole business. A strong traditional marketing background is no longer enough. A CMO must get and be able to apply big data, they must have a robust understanding of human factors — unconscious drivers, semiotics and heuristics, storytelling, and have a strong sense of design and style. The combination of these enables the development far more holistic strategies. In short, the more digital we get, the more human we need to become.”