Why the Future Belongs to CMO Collaborators

Opinion: They must be closely connected to internal teams and the consumers they serve

The digital age has shifted the CMO's role to juggle more.
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The changing role of the chief marketing officer has been the talk of the proverbial town for nearly a decade. But given the frenetic pace of change in our industry under the influence of data and technology, the role of senior marketers is only just beginning to evolve.

The digital era changed the game forever, presenting opportunity on a grand scale and bringing intimacy and authenticity to the connections we have with our customers. Great customer experience starts with empathy and understanding of the customer, and one member of the modern C-suite sits at the nexus of every consumer touch point: the CMO.

CMOs have always behaved as connectors. And the ability to create and maintain those critical connections—inside the C-suite and among internal teams, with technology partners and agency allies—has ushered in the era of the CMO collaborator. They’re able to see the gaps in delivery or the places customers’ needs are not being met and tailor better experiences through partnership and close collaboration—all with a singular focus on ensuring brand promises come alive through every interaction.

The new battleground

Great customer experience starts with empathy and understanding of the customer, and one member of the modern C-suite sits at the nexus of every consumer touch point: the CMO.

Consumers these days are spoiled. Most of us reek of digital entitlement, which means we don’t care why companies can’t get their act together; we want 24/7 access to products and services with free shipping or in-store pickup. If you can’t deliver, we’ll happily jump ship for a brand that can. We want to be able to return something, free of charge, if we don’t like it. Waiting in line is a personal affront. About half of us will walk out of a store if lines are more than five minutes long.

And with all the touch points companies now use, there are more opportunities for the brand experience to fall apart in big and small ways—daily. Call centers subject people to automated phone menus; the sales associate at the big-box store ignores customers’ needs and pines for a 10-minute break; community managers fail to notice an after-hours Twitter rant and the brand is subject to public derision. Every one of these fumbled interactions devalues millions or billions spent on advertising and marketing campaigns.

The rise of the CMO collaborator

CMOs I talk to are aware of this disconnect. Some are fearful, but most are excited about this challenge. Reorienting an organization’s entire culture around the customer experience may require a radical shift for many of these companies, and the CMO collaborator is the leader of this turnaround effort. They encourage teams to work across the company, departments and locations, and have clear processes to ensure the smooth delivery of work. They create a culture that fosters collaboration across all the lines of business, and they build agile cross-functional teams.

Those who persistently view the CMO role in more traditional terms will continue to struggle with organizational silos and incomplete customer profiles that manifest as clunky, disappointing experiences and, eventually, revenue shortfall.

Act on customer obsession

Merely recognizing that all lines of business are orchestrated to comprise the customer experience isn’t enough. Everything from success metrics to process manuals to campaign creative should be built around what is best, most satisfying and most delightful for the customer. For example, if a call center employee is incentivized to keep calls short and whip through conversations instead of being focused on needs and service recovery, call center metrics may look outstanding while customer experience suffers.

A friend recently told me about her experience purchasing bedding from the direct-to-consumer brand Brooklinen. After the first washing, she saw a flaw in her duvet cover, reached out through the online chat function and sent a picture of the tear. A representative immediately engaged her in lighthearted, friendly conversation and asked to learn more about the situation. Before he had even informed her of his intent to replace the item, she had received a shipping notification for a new duvet cover at no charge, no questions asked. When given the room for service recovery, this individual upheld the brand promise flawlessly—not because he is a nice guy, but because customer obsession and satisfaction is obviously part of the brand’s DNA.

Tearing down silos and evangelizing for customer experience might sound like a Herculean task that falls on the shoulders of the CMO, but it’s also a tremendous and fun opportunity. When I think about the surprising, positive interactions I have with my favorite brands and the opportunity to partner with clients to create those kinds of experiences, I feel rewarded by my career and inspired by what else is possible.

This is an exciting time to be a CMO and to use our considerable leadership and communication skills to reimagine the scope and possibility inherent in experience born from collaboration.

This story first appeared in the October 8, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.