They’re abstract ink blots that psychologists used in the 1960s to examine people’s subconscious thoughts, emotions, and biases. Do you see an angel or a demon? Is it a dolphin or a shark? Is your martech setup a stack or a blob?
(Don’t answer that last one!)
In some ways, the chief growth officer (CGO) role represents a Rorschach blot for how you see the future of marketing. Is it about technology or people? Is it about big data or big ideas? Is marketing an all-encompassing function that includes sales, customer experience, support, and more, or is it what happens before someone buys?
At Singular we recently surveyed 700 companies to learn more about the species of marketer labeled “CGO” and what impact they are making.
The Data: Rise Of The CGO
Informally, we found that “CGO” searches have doubled over the past four or five years. A search for “chief growth officer” on LinkedIn returns over 900,000 results, including almost 3,000 open jobs.
But formally we found that the CGO is still a rare bird, relatively seldom observed in the wild.
Only 14% of the companies we studied said they have a CGO on staff. (More, of course, are likely to have VPs and directors of growth, or similar titles, which may eventually morph into top executive roles.) Overall, 29% of companies have a VP, director, or head of growth, and 41% have a growth marketing manager.
Since we didn’t do a comparable survey in the past, it’s hard to estimate the rate of growth, but the anecdotal evidence suggests an increase. This growth parallels the concurrent rise of performance marketing and the general shift toward measurability through technology that is, more and more, tasking CMOs with hard revenue targets.
What A CGO Does
What we can say is that a CGO is different from the traditional understanding of a CMO, but perhaps not that different from the practice of many—though not all—modern CMOs.
CGOs are growth catalysts. They bring together multiple departments to focus on advancing the business. They also heavily rely on technology and data, and they deeply integrate marketing within the fabric of product, customer experience, service, and support.
CGOs often report to CMOs, and they always work closely with CMOs and chief revenue officers (CROs), our study found. They’re more often found in tech companies, they’re disproportionately found in California and New York, and they’re heavily focused on performance marketing (immediate revenue generation) as opposed to brand marketing (long-term awareness building).
But perhaps the best description comes from CGOs themselves. Here’s what a few who provided insight for our report shared:
• “The CGO role is a hybrid role designed to work across departments, with a focus on sales, marketing, and product.” —Matt Fitzgerald, CGO at the Buchanan Group
• “Traditional functional silos can slow a company down while they gather consensus amongst respective leads. For companies that are growing extremely fast, the CGO focuses on short-, medium-, and long-term strategic initiatives, partnerships, products, marketing, and sales to drive growth.” —Chris Renton, CGO at SnapPay
• Growth is a practice to bridge the gap between product, marketing, sales, and enforcing efficient data-driven execution methodology where different teams are optimizing for higher ROI against time and capital investment.” —Ajay Thakur, CGO of Stackraft
Many modern CMOs do similar, if not the same, things as CGOs. The top goal of CMOs is usually growth, according to Deloitte’s spring 2019 CMO survey.
But one major difference is that while CMOs are increasing their brand marketing budgets—up 10% in 2019, according to Deloitte—CGOs are ramping up performance marketing budgets. Another difference Deloitte found is that CMOs tend to use agencies for key marketing functions, while CGOs tend to work in-house. And, of course, while CMOs lead the brand marketing efforts in 91% of companies, as well as PR in the majority of companies, CGOs will almost never do so.
How A CGO Changes An Organization
Organizations with a CGO differed in size and priorities over those without, according to our survey.
Marketing teams with a CGO tended to be almost two times bigger than those without. Not coincidentally, companies with a CGO tended to have larger marketing budgets as well, and spend more on advertising.
Given their focus on performance marketing, CGO-led companies were more focused on fraud. They also demand granular data: More than half (56.4%) of CGO-led brands said connecting customer or user-level data (conversions) with aggregate advertising data (campaigns) is a top need. Meanwhile, companies that don’t have CGOs said their top need was to spend less time exporting data into Excel for analysis.
CGO-led companies were also 65% more likely to invest in new marketing technology, and 48% more likely to invest in artificial intelligence and machine learning. That indicates that CGOs are diving more deeply into data, measurement, unification of disparate datasets, and insights that the data can provide.
They’re also more into mobile: Almost 80% of CGO-led companies said mobile apps were critical to delivering customer value. For non-CGO companies, that number is down to 59.3%.
CMO vs CGO: A False Dichotomy?
Despite their emphasis on data and performance marketing—the science side of the overall discipline—it’s a fallacy to think CGOs dismiss the “art” side of the equation. They understand that creativity and good creative is critical to performance marketing. Indeed, Nielsen says the quality of creative is responsible for as much as 49% of all sales lift. And Ipsos says a full 75% of an ad’s ability to make a positive brand impression is due to creative.
CGOs, as performance marketers, don’t ignore the creative, just as CMOs don’t solely boost brand marketing to the exclusion of performance marketing. Done right, all brand marketing is performance marketing and all performance marketing is brand marketing.
Yes, the CGO, ultimately, is a more performance- and technology-focused role than the traditional CMO, but it’s a spectrum. Some CMOs do much or all of what CGOs do. Some CGOs do much or all of what CMOs do.
When we look into the CGO Rorschach, here’s what we see: The rise of the CGO is an evolution of marketing and a subset of what a CMO does.