White Paper: The role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in the emerging digital economy?

The Knowledge Development Committee (KDC) of the Worshipful Company of Marketors (WCoM) commissioned a report from Professor Stan Maklan, Co-Director of the Centre for Strategic Marketing & Sales and Dr Carmine Basile, both from the Cranfield School of Management, to answer the question:

What is the role of the CMO in the emerging digital economy?

The role of marketing, and that of the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) has long been questioned in management journals and in the profession. Its central role in strategy eroded since Western economic growth began to slow in the 1970s. Its role in setting strategic direction was replaced by the growing influence of first Finance, then IT and more recently Logistics. Marketing long ago ceded its influence at the Board, and this was often heralded by marketers as just punishment for marketing’s inability to “speak the language of the Board”. By this, critics really mean its inability to determine the short-term ROI of communications spending. Yet the growth in social media and personalised data generates huge investment in new marketing technologies and capabilities. Product and business model innovation, enabled by the digitalisation of the economy, has moved the corporate agenda away from financial engineering and cost management, to growth: and marketing is seen as its focal point.

But the digital environment provides as many challenges to marketing as benefits. Social media provides marketers with instant gratification for their viral content but struggles to determine the long-term contribution of such activity. Digital communication promises perfect transparency and accountability for the value of each pound spent, but optimisation and attribution modelling are increasingly the realm of data scientists and algorithms that managers don’t understand fully. Moreover, questionable viewing figures and ad placement have been estimated to cost marketers half of their budget: so, we are back to the old advertising adage of knowing that half one’s budget is wasted: we are just not sure which half. In a world where customer experience might be intermediated by an app, who really delivers the brand’s value proposition: marketers or software engineers? Why doesn’t marketing retreat to managing the brand logo and leave the real business of managing customers and making offers to software developers and data scientists?

The era of big data, AI, digitalisation provides unprecedented opportunities to implement the age-old marketing concept of adapting to ever changing customer needs and wants. It also allows companies to configure comprehensive solutions to customers’ individual wants through new technology and imaginative partnerships. Traditionally, one associates both with the marketing function and the CMO as the leader of the customer connection. But is marketing adapting to this evolving world?

We have written this report based upon a limited number of interviews with WCoM members who are actively working at the CMO level. We add to the findings our learning from emerging results of research activities on digital transformation of marketing that we are leading at Cranfield, and results of various theses in the topic that we have supervised.

We present this report therefore in four parts:

• A review of relevant theory we used to guide the report, focusing on the core concept of Market Orientation; well researched and validated in both Strategy and Marketing disciplines

• Identification of the method used for data collection and analysis

• Report of findings, and

• Discussion of the implications for the role of the CMO and direction of the marketing function.


Download the full White Paper: What is the role of the CMO in the emerging digital economy?