Marketing is undergoing a profound shift. Change is being driven across categories by disruptive competitors, with customer experience as their key differentiator. And, as the natural link between the customer and the wider organization, CMOs have an incredible opportunity to lead the business transformation needed to truly become customer-centric.

In a bid to unlock future growth and safeguard market share, we’re seeing a small group of CMOs begin to chart that path to hyper-relevance, with the hope of becoming a “living business”. These organizations are able to adapt to evolving customer and employee needs in real-time—and they are showing the way for everyone else.

Adopting a new growth mindset

However, this transition is unlikely to be a quick fix; recent global research from Accenture found that 90% of CEOs and CMOs believe the marketing function will change fundamentally in the next three years, suggesting there is ample scope to recalibrate the role and expand its remit for tomorrow’s marketplace.

Thankfully, there is already a small cohort of CMOs (17% of those surveyed) who are exploring what this could look like. Our research found that these “pioneering CMOs” are creating significant business value by delivering hyper-relevant customer experiences, driving customer growth, and responding quickly to the changing needs of their customers.

To find out more about how pioneering CMOs are approaching challenges around future growth, Mhairi McEwan and I spoke with two of the industry’s leading lights during Accenture’s panel at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2019: Syl Saller, global CMO of Diageo, and Nina Bibby, CMO of O2/Telefónica UK.

How can you become a “pioneering CMO”?

Believe it or not, pioneering CMOs are not simply throwing money at the problem. And, despite not spending significantly more on customer experience or innovation as part of their marketing budgets, this cohort of CMOs outperformed peers on shareholder value by an average of 11% year-on-year from 2017-2018.

Instead of increasing budgets, pioneering CMOs take a much more holistic approach to business transformation, from organizational re-structuring to internal culture. Underpinning this approach is a core belief in—and focus on—customer-centricity.

Tomorrow’s CMOs place the customer at the heart of their vision for growth—not just in services, but in how they adapt to the ever-changing marketplace.

Putting customer need at the heart of product development

For Syl Saller, this meant responding quickly to the emerging customer thirst in some markets for non-alcoholic beverages even though, on the surface, it flew in the face of Diageo’s core proposition.

It was the evolving needs of its customers which first led Diageo to create Distil Ventures—a start-up incubator focused on nurturing the brands of the future. “Building new capabilities for a world where we can meet consumer needs in many adult drinking occasions is a core part of our growth strategy.“

Crucially, Diageo didn’t look to compete with the giants already in the soft drinks space, such as Coca-Cola or PepsiCo. Instead, it looked to carve its own niche which met emerging customer needs in a new way, innovating in the market instead of simply fitting in. In Saller’s words, ”That’s why the genius of Ben Branson’s creation of Seedlip fit with our strategy when so many other products just weren’t right.”

Inspiring an organization to customer-centricity

For brands who already have their pioneering product, but are failing to see tangible returns, it can be hard to identify where they’re going wrong.

Speaking to Nina Bibby, the answer becomes clear—collaboration. She believes that delivering the end-to-end customer experience cannot be down to marketing alone. Instead, the delivery of the brand happens across the entire company, all the way down to the 18-year old store adviser in Ipswich.

How the CMO’s role has evolved, however, is in bringing that customer-centric vision and coordinating that collaboration at an organizational level. It also means inspiring employees to deliver the brand promise at every touchpoint. After all, as Bibby said: “If we can’t inspire our employees, we can’t inspire our customers”.

One thing is certain: there has never been a more exciting time to be a marketer. Amid a challenging marketplace, and with the pressure on to deliver new pathways to growth, CMOs have a tremendous opportunity to reinvent their roles and become truly pioneering.

John Zealley

Senior Managing Director – Interactive

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