The World’s Top CMOs on the Role of Marketing in the Future

Analysis from The Great Marketing Reboot symposiums

The Great Marketing Reboot shows an emphasis on the long-term. Adweek
Headshot of Nadine Dietz

Last week, Adweek brought together 50 top marketers for two CMO Symposiums. We called it The Great Marketing Reboot in an effort to find out what’s changed in the past three months, what’s changing in the next three months, and what’s forever changed.

We issued a quick survey developed in partnership with the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA). The results were both expected and surprising in different ways. Here are some of the key findings:

Elevated roles

We all suspected that advertising budgets had been slashed in the past three months. That has been pretty obvious as marketers pivoted from their previously planned big campaigns and turned to social media to simply listen and apply resources in response to the immediate real-time needs.

What we didn’t see coming before the storm was the pivotal and historic moment for marketing to rise in importance across their organizations as CEOs took a renewed interest in—and come to depend on—the role of marketing in shepherding brands and companies through these turbulent times.

  • 68% of survey respondents said the role of marketing has been elevated in the past three months
  • 8% said marketing had taken a step back

For those marketers who pivoted successfully and leveraged social media as key community connectors, revenue grew. This leads to another future challenge: making the case for keeping their big ad budgets. (This will be tackled in upcoming research co-led by Adweek and the MMA, as the need to completely rethink budget allocation is here and the process of designing for expected outcomes has shifted, from immediate conversion to short- and long-term brand reputation.)

No longer are brands allowed to tell their own story devoid of purpose or social values. The actions of brands need to be louder and clearer than ever before as the communities in which they participate demand responsibility, accountability and progress. And, it’s not OK to simply interchange brand purpose and cause marketing. They are different, but the push to have them further integrated has never been higher and communities are watching for authenticity, not just in messaging but how these companies are operating.

Case in point: A few days after the killing of George Floyd, Nike came out with a strong ad message to bring racism to the forefront during the Black Lives Matter protests. Reminiscent of its 2018 Colin Kaepernick ad, this ad is rumored to have been created three years ago and shelved for the “right moment.”

The moment the campaign aired, Nike was met with both love and blast. The ever-controversial Cindy Gallop quickly pointed out that there wasn’t a single Black person on the athletic brand’s executive team. Nike got called to the carpet, not for its brand purpose or cause marketing, but because of the inauthentic connection of the outside to the inside.

Lead from the inside out

Who is responsible for the inside? This topic came up several times last week as part of the ongoing discussion around diversity and inclusion, as the CMO is 100% responsible for ensuring their team is diverse, the culture is inclusive, and inequities are addressed to provide equal opportunities for all.

The CMO’s influence over the composition of their company has become increasingly important. And control of the partner ecosystem provides the power to enforce principles across the supply chain—with the agencies they choose to work with to the creators employed to communicate with the communities they serve.

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of P&G and chair of the ANA, has been a consistent advocate for ecosystem reform and responded a few days after Nike’s ad by bringing forward “The Choice”, which was created by one-week old Black-owned agency Cartwright in partnership with Grey.

In his words: “The deep problems of systemic racism and inequality have been institutionalized over centuries and will not be solved unless the white community steps up to help. It’s time for us all to make the choice to take action. Read. Listen. Donate. Plan. March. Vote. Speak out. Step in. And step up to dismantle systemic racism and inequality once and for all.”

Being a change agent that confronts societal challenges requires not only strong leadership for the marketing team, but credible influence across the organization. One of the most concerning results of last week’s survey is only a third of the participating CMOs said they were responsible for internal communications, which is critical to ensure all employees are informed and able to consistently understand and connect to the brand they represent. To quote Stan Slap, “If you can’t sell it inside, you can’t sell it outside.”

So, a key takeaway here for any marketer: If you don’t own internal communications or aren’t part of the DNA discussion of your internal organization, get proactive with your CEO and HR counterparts. You own your brand, period. Brand is more than sales of a product or service. It is a representation of a personality, a position, a movement toward a consumer benefit that all employees must subscribe to and believe in.

You can’t do it alone, so you must be in a position to provide direction and guidance to all who represent that brand, and that absolutely includes corporate communications and the internal makeup of the organization. If the entire employee population in your company doesn’t know or believe in the brand and what it stands for, the brand doesn’t hold true.

Purpose takes center stage

Brand. It’s a great word, but we forget it is a real thing. It’s a communicator for marketing. It’s a balance sheet asset for finance. It’s a guiding light for employees to follow.

We’ve talked about purpose for many years. A lot of people pointed to purpose as a buzzword, a fad, another gimmick to enroll the hearts of consumers. Well, to anyone who thinks that, it’s time to hang it up. It’s not an option anymore, and brand purpose cannot be seen by consumers as inauthentic. That actually works entirely against your brand, and is the quickest way to inspire revolt.

While purpose and cause marketing (passion) remain different, the lines are starting to blur. Your brand purpose can be something entirely different than the social stances you take and support, but they must work together and be 100% consistent, inside and out, for consumers and employees to trust you moving forward.

The key to earning trust and building engagement in any scenario is connectivity from the heart, which has fueled the rise of social media to connect more closely with community. As one CMO said last week, “We must move from focusing on consumption to caring and community.”

The value shift of marketing is upon us, and that will require changes in spend, goals and measurement. And this will also require a revisit of the tech-enabled platform every marketer is using to ensure these revised messages are getting to the right person at the right time with the right message in the right environment. (This will be the focus of our upcoming deep dive with the MMA.)

Focus on team health

In studying key success factors of top CMOs from the CMO Moves podcast, there has always been one consistent answer to their success. Not a single CMO would be where they are today without the tremendous support and brilliance of their teams. And they all acknowledge how important it is for them to support their teams, provide guidance, training and resources.

The most significant variable that has shifted in the last three months—and that will continue to rise in importance in the next three months—is team mental health, followed by productivity and development. This new world of always on has everyone working more, despite commute time savings, and feeling more isolated than ever before. While some things have improved, such as more one-on-one time with team members, the never-ending Zoom meetings and constant demand for real-time response has left everyone feeling exhausted, searching and burned out.

Many have endured being furloughed or let go entirely. For those who remain in their roles, the pressure and responsibility perceived is off the charts. And no playbook exists for either the leaders or the teams, which is clear from all the new attempts to alleviate pressure that aren’t working.

As part of the Great Marketing Reboot, leaders will have to learn new skills to effectively lead in these times; entire teams will need more outlets and permissions to decompress; new rules will need to be put into place to respect the divide between personal and professional; and mental health must be consistently monitored and considered a top priority for long-term brand health.

As we dive in over the next few weeks and months, team health will be the anchor of everything we examine. As you’ve all heard before, “there is no ‘I’ in team,” “it takes a village” and “to go fast, go alone, to go far, go together.”

I’ll leave you with 10 top tips from last week’s symposiums for now, but we’ll be back with more.

Brands of tomorrow must:

1. Be human first.
2. Uphold purpose as a business imperative.
3. Play a larger role in societal issues.
4. Be consistent and authentic, inside and out
5. Promote team health, especially mental health.
6. Weigh in on business models and product development.
6. Focus on long-term brand reputation, not short-term sales.
8. Embrace and enable democratization of content.
9. Collaborate cross-Industry in unexpected ways.
10. Be agile and community-centric.


nadine.dietz@adweek.com Nadine Dietz is chief community officer at Adweek and host of the CMO Moves podcast.
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