CMOs, Here's How to Lead Your Companies Through Permanent Change

It involves doing what marketers do best: predicting what comes next

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We are living in an era of permanent change. What’s relevant to your customer today may be in their rearview mirror tomorrow. Sweeping shifts brought on by emerging technology, geopolitics, economic headwinds and a global pandemic have created both constant turmoil and opportunity for marketers.

Indeed, not since the dot-com era have the stakes of navigating change—and a fundamentally changed customer—been so high. Most marketing organizations have accepted, in theory at least, that they must now meet customers wherever they are and convey exactly the right message, experience, service or offer in exactly the right context. Otherwise, they risk becoming irrelevant.

But it’s also important to remember that many marketers work within far-reaching global businesses—and most companies simply aren’t adapting fast enough to match the increasing uncertainty and complexity around us. According to research we’ve worked on at Accenture, 95% of global leaders say their customers’—and employees’—lives are changing faster than businesses. That’s cause for concern, as almost two-thirds of consumers said they wished companies would respond faster to their rapidly evolving needs.

To help their companies thrive amid change rather than merely survive it, it is imperative that marketers lead the way. Based on Accenture’s expertise in advising CMOs and clients on marketing transformations, we have found that marketers can be highly effective change agents by focusing on three areas.

Be a dynamic data steward

In this new era of digital-based competition and customer control, people are increasingly buying because of a brand’s relevance to their needs in the moment. For marketers, that means blending both proactive and reactive strategies, and using both first- and third-party data.

Take Kimberly-Clark, which wanted to connect more emotionally with its customers and open a two-way dialogue. The personal care company created a solution: pulling first-party data to the fore and collating brand data from different sources to build a cohesive picture of customer needs. The new digital connections meant Kimberly-Clark could connect in a more personalized way, such as offering new parents informational tools and loyalty rewards on its Huggies mobile app or reaching out to people buying cold medication to help them find related products such as Kleenex.

This kind of sophisticated data use and dynamic strategy can create a culture of change across an organization, proving that marketing is a new strategic center of the business.

Data has showed marketers to be more adept and stronger than we ever thought we could be, and the entire function more resilient. When the aftershocks settle and a calmer pattern emerges, marketers should look for new pictures of progress to emerge—for both people and brands. 

Simplify to innovate

As Accenture CEO Julie Sweet has said, simplification means innovation. When you simplify, you reduce and focus. And that allows you to innovate more. 

Marketing is steeped in data that we use for business outcomes. Given the ever-changing landscape we’re in, we marketers need to lead the way in simplifying our own organizations—again, with the use of data. 

This is important in a time of potential budget cuts, where creating digital twins—a virtual duplicate of a physical object, process or system that can be used to predict how those elements will respond to different variables—can model possible cuts and their effects, helping to inform difficult decisions while reaching new levels of effectiveness

The impact that focus and data have on the entire marketing function reveals a truth we can all embrace: Data can not only lead to effectiveness but can also open the door to more creativity. 

For years, marketing has discussed and debated technology and data’s impact on our industry. Now is the time to use them for the good of our craft and our organizations. 

Employ cross-function collaboration

Marketing and communications professionals are seeking the best, most creative and strategic career opportunities available. According to LinkedIn, 618,000 marketers changed jobs in 2021. Having the best people is critical because their roles are critical. 

Retaining employees starts with keeping them engaged. And one way to keep them engaged is to set a positive example for working with others to achieve common goals. New research from Accenture underscores the importance of collaboration across the C-suite to ensure that people are at the center of change—particularly, that better alignment between the CMO and chief human resource officer drives better growth. In fact, the highest-performing CHROs are 42% more likely than their CHRO peers to have a strong, mutually influential relationship with CMOs. 

This focus, from the C-suite connection to the inspiration of every marketing and communications professional, will make a positive impact on both business growth and people’s careers. 

This means marketers should strive for closer alignment between marketing, communications and HR. Both functions are people-first, and both drive company growth. However, only one in three CHROs in our survey said they have a strong, mutually influential relationship with the CMO. This should be the year when 100% of CHROs and CMOs courageously embrace their partnership and together make a positive impact on business growth and their staffs’ careers and well-being.

Also rising in importance: the need to balance work-from-home convenience with the loss of workplace intangibles and the “accidental culture” that comes from chance hallway conversations and the spontaneous exchange of ideas that can help build careers and connections. Ongoing Accenture research has found that people miss office camaraderie, chitchat, shared lunch breaks, birthday cakes and more, because those unscripted moments have important connective value. A recent Gallup poll found that those who have a best friend at work were twice as likely to report feeling strongly satisfied with their jobs during the pandemic as those who don’t have a close friendship in the office (32% vs. 15%).

People want to be strategic, focused and connected. And they want to know what their career path is, along with opportunities for training and moving throughout the function. As marketers, we should revise the way we view outcomes, looking beyond quantitative metrics like leads or sales and considering qualitative factors like the experience of work itself. Creating this new consistency is a must-do—and the gateway to fairness and possibility.

Being the change

The single biggest challenge companies face is adapting fast enough to match the increasing uncertainty and complexity around us. Fortunately for marketers, we know how to read and respond to change—and we have the skills to do it. With today’s pace of change, CMOs and everyone in their organizations have no choice but to lead the way to help their organizations thrive in change, not just survive it.