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In APAC, The CMO Role Is Undergoing Its Own Disruption

Few senior executive roles will change as much over the next few years as that of the chief marketing officer.

A decade ago, McKinsey & Co. warned of the disruption ahead; 10 years later, its prediction is more salient than ever. Digital disruption and an appetite for innovation have led to the CMO’s traditional domain being infiltrated by a host of new C-suite titles--chief digital officers, chief customer officers, chief experience officers, and chief innovation officers, among them–while contract marketing specialists are being assigned to project-style tactical work.

Marketing veteran Andy Lark has been CMO of Dell, Commonwealth Bank, and, most recently, New Zealand-based software company Xero, until the company abolished his role last year. He lamented an increasing lack of respect for the CMO role and how many organisations seem to believe that “rotating an inexperienced executive” through a series of roles is the answer to their marketing needs.

“It’s not,” he told CMO.com. “There is enormous fragmentation in marketing, with chief customer officers and a whole range of flavours. The CMO is being pushed down the executive food chain, while the typical CMO tenure has plunged to 18 to 24 months.”

This is resulting in tactical approaches being applied to marketing rather than the long-term strategic benefits that a seasoned CMO could deliver, Lark added.

He is also concerned about the growing number of organisations he said are now operating without a CMO. “You couldn’t run a company without a CFO–why without a CMO? It baffles me,” he said.

While a number of CMOs appear to be “giving up,” Lark said, successful CMOs in the future will distinguish themselves by being “brilliantly strategic,” delivering sharp programmes and experiences.

Cast Into The CIO’s Shadow?
Jean-Michel Wu, Asia Pacific CEO of global executive search firm Grace Blue, acknowledged that the CMO’s fundamental role has changed as marketing has embraced digital channels and social media. This, he said, has led to marketing budget fragmentation and made the CMO role a “whole lot more complicated.”

At the same time, the marketing budget is now in the sights of management consultants such as McKinsey and Accenture, which Wu said are “moving more into marketing territory.” “Because management consultants have a better relationship with the CEO and the CIO, the CIO is becoming more important,” he told CMO.com.

Wu does not believe the CMO has been downgraded, “but the emphasis on data has allowed the CIO to be elevated.”

But perhaps it’s not an either/or scenario. The days of siloed C-suite responsibilities are over, said Peter Noblet, senior regional director at global recruiting specialist Hays, and all senior executives need to operate “massively in concert” to succeed.

Successful CMOs have already flipped their approach, shifting from pushing out a corporate message to sculpting the business based on what customers and potential clients are saying to transform the customer experience, he said. Noblet also is of the mind that the ability to use data to quantify, not just qualify, the customer and pivot quickly based on that insight is essential to a CMO’s future success.

“To stand out from the crowd and keep up with what is going on, CMOs need to understand the trends in digital marketing,” he told CMO.com. “The CMO is no longer a silo.”

Industry marketing silos are also eroding. Noblet said that finding a new CMO from the same industry is a case of “fishing from a small pool.” Instead, organisations are now looking for “commonalities less around the sector and more in tune with the commercial drivers.”

“We are counselling our clients to look at transferable skills, and to look outside local companies to more international talent,” Noblet said.

In fact, Noblet pointed to Lark as a good example of a CMO who has swapped countries and industries, adding marketing value each time.

Eyeing The Top Job
Now for the biggest question of them all: Can seasoned and successful CMOs in APAC transition into the CEO role? According to Noblet, the CEO is traditionally appointed from the operations or finance function, and he isn’t predicting much change in this area.

Grace Blue’s Wu, however, said good CMOs can and will transition to the CEO role if they can secure extra education and training. He pointed to evidence of this across the region, particularly for marketing leads who had rich international experience and understood cultural nuance. The Marketing Academy, for example, has been established with the explicit goal of helping CMOs develop the credentials needed to become CEOs, Wu said.

But, like Noblet, he said he sees CMOs as part of a team, “in partnership with the CIO and the CEO, but not diminished by it. Marketing is more important than ever before.”

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