As Shake-ups Continue to Hit the C-Suite, the Role of the CMO Is Most Often Rebranded

The latest hybrid with potential? Chief visionary officer

The C-suite is under constant change, and it's very likely that the CMO could be considered a chief visionary officer in the future. Getty Images

As companies struggle to keep pace with rapid changes in business, culture and consumers, they’re appointing more and more chiefs to cover what they might be missing.

Overall, it’s the CMO role that has seen the most tinkering. Two popular substitutes are chief brand officer or chief commercial officer. Another popular CMO rebrand for companies’ whose customer experience isn’t up to snuff may be chief customer officer or chief experience officer, which evolves the role with more focus on customer outcomes to accompany the traditional marketing and brand building responsibilities.

These changes aren’t surprising considering the tenuous position many CMOs find themselves in. Executive search and leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart found CMOs average a scant 44 months on the job, the highest turnover of all C-suite executives.

A global survey of CEOs by the Fournaise Marketing Group revealed that 80 percent of them don’t trust or are “unimpressed” with their CMOs, whereas only 10 percent feel the same way about their CFO or CIO. That sentiment cuts both ways: Harvard Business Review found that 74 percent of CMOs believe they aren’t being allowed to exert maximum business impact for reasons ranging from unrealistic expectations to misaligned performance metrics.

The CMO is the guiding light, the one who explores the world beyond organizational walls and takes that knowledge and breathes it into the entire organization.

Something has to give. One change noted is the effort to tie marketing to growth by blending the CMO role with the responsibilities of the chief revenue officer to give rise to another hybrid title: the chief growth officer. This executive might work hand in hand with the chief commercial officer who oversees a company’s sales.

Taking it all a step further, the CMO should think of growth not just in building a direct line to the consumer but also use that knowledge for internal growth, which you might call direct-to-company.

The CMO is the guiding light, the one who explores the world beyond organizational walls and takes that knowledge and breathes it into the entire organization. Accomplishing this means assuming the mantle of a new title: chief visionary officer. To be one, you need to do the following.

Grow your relationship with your consumer

It’s only getting harder to break through the clutter and connect with audiences, making it all the more important to nurture and strengthen that connection once it’s established. That means honing your direct-to-consumer offerings to create a conduit for the customer to know who they are down to the micro-detail. Then put this information to work to create more personalized offerings for customers that will keep them engaged and grow their loyalty and spending power.

Grow your value to your customers 

For companies with a B2B focus, it’s a matter of helping clients be better at their own jobs. What knowledge and services can you provide that will save them time and cost? Often you’ll find that the steps you take to improve performance and efficiency for customers provide useful insight into how you need to transform your own products and organization as well.

Grow your indispensability to the C-suite

CMOs can become more valuable by keeping the CEO and the rest of the C-Suite prepared for what’s next as well as utilizing their creative thinking and storytelling skills to help others create a vision for the future. By interpreting and translating what’s occurring outside the company, they can be the guiding light they need to stay relevant. That includes a knowledge of the customer and how they are being shaped by work, new technologies, cultural shifts and societal and political issues as well best practices learned from how other businesses are responding to these changes.

Grow your employee experience

What an organization can accomplish is only limited by the new hires it can attract and its ability to get the most out of those people. But high churn rates and competition for top talent present a challenge. It’s imperative to work with other members of the C-suite—whether that’s a chief HR, culture or people officer—to develop a culture of learning and create a great employee experience that your team will brag about.

Grow yourself 

This last piece of advice works well for anyone. No matter your role, it’s critical to constantly push our own thinking and see the world beyond right now. Get out there. Be curious. Surround yourself with people from different disciplines, not just those in marketing and advertising. Disrupt your comfort zone and learn about things you never had to learn about before.

To keep the CMO job relevant and valuable, growth needs to be thought in terms of seeing a vision beyond the present—perhaps even beyond the possible—and then guiding your organization to turn that vision into reality. A lesson to take to heart, whether or not you’re a CMO trying to become a CVO.

Brad Grossman is the founder and CEO of Zeitguide.