The Rise of the Chief Growth Officer

It sounds like a made-up title, but it's the real thing

Companies are starting to look at the marketing role, if not department, through different lenses. Getty Images

Last week, Johnson & Johnson’s chief marketing officer decided to call it a day, stepping down from the company after roughly six years. As part of the announcement, J&J said that it’s restructuring its business model, essentially eliminating the role of the CMO. 

The CPG/pharma company is just the latest large corporation to revamp the position, following the likes of Coca-Cola, Hyatt and Lyft over the last several years. Although the CMO is often the face of the company, systemic challenges can push the role into different territory; CMOs frequently have little agency at a company, as they typically neither generate revenue nor have a P&L. 

And in an age when marketing has become a catchall for everything from campaigns to experiential to programmatic, companies are starting to look at the role, if not department, through different lenses. 

Enter the chief growth officer, a hybrid role that’s part marketing, part sales, part product, part tech, part consumer advocate. The role is, as the name implies, to drive growth—but in ways that serve internal functions (build cross-functional teams) and external (keeping an eye on customer demand; what does the consumer want from us?). 

And companies are starting to see the potential of this role.

“It’s a term that sounds like another made-up C-suite title,” said Josh Francia, chief growth officer at Blueshift, a marketing platform company. “It’s actually a resurrected title, popular about 20 years ago when you didn’t have the divergence of responsibilities. Now, with a CTO, CIO, CMO, everything is specialized.” 

Companies that have embraced the CGO, Francia said, have pushed the role to be “cross-functional,” overseeing multiple divisions, and not just focused on campaign execution. The CGO oversees everything from the experience of landing pages to analytics.

And as marketing teams sit beneath the CGO, these divisions are starting to have better seats at the table, with greater levels of influence and accountability. CMOs are often on the hook for driving the end result, but they have the ability only at the beginning of the process of driving people to your site or product. The CGO is here to change that. 

In a new report from Singular, a marketing-intelligence platform, organizations with a CGO at the top have larger marketing budgets.

Brands with $5 million to $10 million in annual ad spend have CGOs 21.3% of the time, the report said. Companies with more than $50 million in annual ad spend have a CGO just a little more: 21.4% of the time.

Companies spending less than $5 million a year had CGOs 11.1% of the time, and those who spend $11 million to $50 million have CGOs 15.6-17.7% of the time.

“We’re seeing the emergence of the CGO and see it’s tied to the growth marketing trend, performance marketing trend, and we wondered how it impacts the CMO,” said John Koetsier, vp of insights for Singular. 

This emergence is still slowly playing out. In the report, only 14% of companies said they have a CGO. However, Koetsier noted, almost half of the companies have a senior-level growth marketing person. 

“More interesting we don’t see this as opposition to CMO, but working close with CMO,” he said. “CGOs work with every department to unify around growth. It’s more performance focused than the CMO. We also saw interesting things in CGO-led organizations, where they are more focused on mobile apps, for instance.”

The report found “CGO-led organizations are 30% more likely to have an app critical for delivering customer value or generating revenue than organizations without a CGO. Mobile apps are revenue generators and customer value creators for 77.2% of organizations that have a CGO.”

For organizations that don’t have a CGO, that number drops to 59.3%.

The elevation of the CGO role also happens to coincide with the rise of marketing and technological advancements, and companies are starting to see the value of the position. 

Marketing touches all—from product creation to customer support—and is a chance to make consumers form an opinion of the company or an impression of the product. The CGO is an evolutionary step, a recasting of marketing’s function. 

“We see a trend of emerging of functions,” Koetsier said, “An adoption of specific revenue topics, the focus on marketing and marketing tech, and that’s coalescing around the CGO.”

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.