The CX Files: The changing role of the CMO

By June 17, 2018 May 10th, 2019 No Comments

by Julia Ahlfeldt (@JuliaAhlfeldtCustomer expectations of companies are rising by the day. For those companies that understand the importance of delivering a customer experience that meets and exceeds expectations, the burning question is: Who shoulders the responsibility for rallying the organisation to deliver on what the customer needs and expects?

There’s no clear-cut answer to this yet. In the meantime, as businesses are under mounting pressure to constantly deliver on their brand promises, the responsibility often defaults to marketing because they’re responsible for some related tasks (eg customer research and social media monitoring).

As marketing teams across the globe scramble to keep up with these new responsibilities and expectations, the role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) is constantly evolving. These are some of the most noticeable shifts and requirements for a successful CMO today:

The CMO needs to craft unique experiences

Marketing used to be primarily focused on pushing out relevant information about the company and its products to targeted consumer groups. This was a key sales driver, and often the marketing team’s most-important KPI. While that is still relevant today, it’ll only get you so far and marketing teams now need to pay more attention to the “pull” factors. Competing on price and product is more difficult when customers can easily search for the best deals available online.

When there isn’t much to differentiate product A from product B in terms of price and availability, customer experience becomes the deciding factor, and the customer’s experience begins before they’ve even chosen your brand or product. Research from 2015 showed that 82% of smartphone users consult their phones on purchases they’re about to make in store. The best CMOs factor this into their marketing process and attract new customers by offering a customer-centric digital experience from the outset.

The CMO needs to define customer engagement in a digital world

Probably the most important example at this point in time is how companies respond to feedback and queries via social media. Facebook or Twitter may be the first port of call for your most-valued customers to voice their questions or dissatisfactions. Do you have a team in place to adequately deal with this?

In the old “push”-focused marketing, it was easy to relegate social media to a junior team member, as it was seen as simply another channel for disseminating messages. But. today, customers are expecting interactive support on social media — and the most-junior member of the marketing team isn’t necessarily best-placed to provide these. Any social media plan or strategy needs to start out with a focus on how to deal with customer issues, and ideally it should be a collaboration between customer support and marketing.

The CMO needs to bring all stakeholders together

According to a recent IBM study on the role of the CMO, having a collaborative workplace, where employees are incentivised to share knowledge and work together to solve problems, is a core characteristic of a customer-centric culture. The CMO may need to be the one advocating for a cross-functional approach within an organization, and should be a natural diplomat who’s skilled at bringing various stakeholders together to deliver on a united purpose.

The CMO needs to understand data

The quality of customer data available today, compared to 10 years ago, is astounding. But who’s bringing it together and figuring out how to use it? Often this responsibility also falls to marketing, and this is another example of where a cross-functional approach, in this case between the CMO and the CIO (chief information officer), works better. Ideally, the CIO would be tasked with data synthesis and analysis, whereas the CMO would look at how to understand the data from a customer’s point of view — and look for ways to improve customer experiences based on this information.

The CMO needs a design-thinking approach

According to the IBM study, 79% of the most successful CMOs say they use a design-thinking approach to improve their customers’ experiences. Design-thinking revolves around developing a deeper understanding and empathy for customers and their needs. Instead of thinking “How can we market our product?”, design-thinkers start with “What do our customers want, and how can we give them this?” Design-thinkers will continually question and test their assumptions and are open to experimentation. They want to find solutions to problems customers didn’t even realise they had in order to deliver exceptional experiences.

This article was originally posted on in June 2018, as part of my regular column, The CX Files. For more information about my business advisory services, including customer experience strategy click here.

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