More Companies Will Replace CMOs With Chief Growth Officers in 2018, Forrester Predicts

Marketing chiefs must 'go or grow'

The demand on marketers to become more data-centric will not subside. Getty Images

Consumer obsession has become the holy grail of commerce—shoppers have more options than ever, and they crave meaningful connections with brands before committing to them. That obsession has become the engine of growth and organizational success in an era when brands can no longer rely on organic drivers like acquisitions, expanded distribution or market presence.

The explosion of choice thanks to nimble, digital-first brands has meant that consumers can navigate easily to whatever captures their hearts and minds at the right time and place. CMOs have to adapt to this shifted landscape and become engineers of growth rather than architects of campaigns and communications tactics, according to a report from Forrester’s Predictions series released today.

In short, CMOs must “go or grow” in 2018.

According to Marketing Week, the demand on marketers to become more “data-centric, performance-oriented and transformation-focused” will not subside. Forrester takes it a step further in the new report, predicting that eight more Fortune 100 brands will likely fold the traditional remit of the CMO into the responsibilities of newly appointed chief growth officers.

Evidence of the chief marketer’s expanded charge already abounds. Coca-Cola dissolved its CMO role in March 2017, folding brand marketing, customer experience and strategy into a CGO role. No longer about creating stirring, beautiful campaigns that resonate, the function of marketing at Coke has become one that employs campaigns as tactics that support a broader growth strategy. In the same restructuring, the vp-level research and development role was elevated to a chief innovation officer post reporting directly to the CEO. The global head of technology became responsible for top-down digital transformation and also got a direct line to the CEO. Fast-moving consumer goods brands like Colgate-Palmolive, Coty and Mondelez, Hershey’s, and Kellogg’s have restructured similarly.

This dovetails with another trend—the rise of the CMTO and the CDO, hybrid roles that are charged with laying down the infrastructure for an enhanced focus on the consumer—and could sound a “note of doom” for some CMOs, according to the Forrester report’s author, Keith Johnston, vp, research director.

Johnston sees a skill gap in the current brand marketing community, rather than a resistance to understanding customer experience and tech. CMOs who have traditionally been rewarded for creating great campaigns will need to “grow themselves,” Johnston explained, to fit the new marketplace. Those who “can’t embrace the new market conditions and circumstances surrounding their customer will either be relegated to a glorified brand manager [position] or replaced by another C-suite member.” Hence, the “go or grow” prediction.

There are also cultural challenges for large organizations. To reinvent themselves, they’ll look to leadership to bust silos, fuse disciplines and create new systems and processes.

Overall, Johnston said he’s optimistic about the elevation of the brand marketing community’s remit. The best CMOs will grow into the expanded role, prioritizing growth, consumers and the mobile-first customer journey. Those who do not, who continue to “unproductively fetishize” digital disruption, will not be able to stay.