CEOs increasingly expect their marketing leads to drive growth, creating both a tremendous challenge and opportunity for marketers. The question is—where should they start?

A recent global study by Accenture sought to answer that very question, learning from the small group of “pioneering” CMOs (17%) who are already leading their organizations to greater growth than their peers.

These CMOs are taking a different, more holistic and transformative approach to their culture, organization and ecosystem. They’ve made marketing a mission, not a department. Crucially, at the heart of their approach, is customer-centricity – but way beyond pure Marketing.

By putting customers top of mind for everything the organization does and promoting a truly collaborative cross-functional mindset, these CMOs are successfully transforming their businesses across three broad categories – ‘reinventing’, ‘rejecting’ old ways of working and ‘rewiring’. To get a deeper insight into how this works in practice, we spoke to industry leaders at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2019.

Reinventing for the now and the new

Truly pioneering CMOs are focused on—and delivering—innovation and disruptive growth.

How? Our research showed that this group of change-makers are more likely to say their primary expertise is in “being an innovator”, and more likely to spend most (75%+) of their time “managing disruptive growth”.

This doesn’t necessarily mean adding layers to the existing model or blindly replicating it in new markets. For Syl Saller, global CMO of Diageo, it meant simplifying the operating model to accelerate speed to market.  

By removing the regional layer in Diageo’s organizational structure, Saller was able to foster more seamless information sharing between global and local leads—to accelerate growth in important emerging markets.

To help drive transformation, pioneering CMOs are also using an ever-evolving tool kit of technology. By better leveraging analytics and granular insights to inform their growth strategies, they can respond to emerging opportunities more quickly and meet customer needs in real-time. 

Rejecting a broken marketing culture

A pioneering CMO can only be effective if their organization is receptive to their ideas and willing to collaborate to realise the vision. This may require a totally new culture and ways of working.

To remedy this, future-orientated CMOs must get comfortable with the idea of inspiring change – and change as a constant, understanding that this is a given if the organization is to keep up with rapidly changing customer needs.

Building this change-mindset into the wider organizational culture often means rejecting conventional wisdom and being bold in challenging the status-quo. For nearly a third of pioneering CMOs, this means bringing in outside talent to build new capabilities, while 23% are placing a greater focus on their people to establish a customer-centric organization in all parts of the business.

In turn, pioneering CMOs are more likely to be ahead of the curve when it comes to meeting customer expectations around data privacy, transparency and multi-channel experiences.

Nina Bibby, CMO of O2/Telefónica UK, has experienced such a shift in marketing culture first-hand, driven by a fundamental change in customer needs. At Accenture’s Cannes Lions 2019 panel session on pioneering CMOs, she was candid in admitting that Telefónica used to think of itself as a “brand running a business”.

Today, they’ve changed that story; instead of focusing solely on big brand moments like product launches, they increasingly leverage new capabilities around data, decision-making and orchestration to deliver relevant and highly curated experiences to customers wherever and whenever they need them.

Rewiring operating models for growth

In addition to driving cultural collaboration, pioneering CMOs must also ensure that the operating model, processes and access to data allow for faster and better collaboration across functions.

By rewiring their organization with more connected operating models that facilitate collaboration between both internal groups and external groups, these CMOs are better placed to drive sustained growth. Technology is key to facilitating that collaboration, and legacy systems often need to be enhanced or supplemented to enable that.

Once this new operating model is in place, pioneering CMOs are quick to nurture connections with other C-suite executives to impact wider strategy and business priorities.

This level of value-driven collaboration also applies to external partnerships; pioneering CMOs are 17% more likely than their peers to be expanding their network beyond traditional agency partners, thereby taking advantage of the opportunities for growth outside their immediate ecosystem. It’s also about working with existing partners in new ways. Bibby discussed their planning hub, a hybrid model, in which employee planning leads and multiple agency planners come together to work across organizations and silos, in agile ways, on specific initiatives.

In today’s challenging marketplace, it’s clear that growth demands constant transformation to anticipate and meet customer needs as, when and where they arise. And that transformation requires marketing leaders able to galvanize the rest of the organization to put their customers’ needs at the heart of their brand and business operations—it’s way beyond marketing.

Mhairi McEwan


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