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Reinventing Marketing in the Digital Era

Marketing sits at the interface of the company and its present and prospective markets. How will the activities, responsibilities and design of the marketing organization evolve in the future? The answers will emerge from the interplay of three driving forces with the unique features of each firm’s strategy, legacy, and the dynamics of their market. These driving forces are the impact of digital technologies, the changing role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) as a member of the C-suite, and emerging organizational designs.

Technologies have allowed the marketing organization to become more efficient and effective and the boundaries with other functional disciplines are blurring. The CMO may now be called the "chief engagement officer"or "chief customer officer" to signal a shift in priorities. Roles akin to product manager, customer insights manager, PR manager, and advertising director are the spokes and rim of the wheel around the CMO, who is the hub and coordinator.

Some CMOs will rise to the intensifying challenge created by the driving forces we just described, and earn “a seat at the table” of the C-suite. They will excel at the five priority actions needed to navigate the escalating complexity and uncertainty in their markets: act as the visionary for the future of the company, build adaptive capabilities, integrate digital technologies, tighten the alignment with the sales function, and take accountability for the return on marketing spending.


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How will they deploy these five priority actions to ensure their organization stays ahead of the driving forces that will shape the future? First and foremost, they will advocate outside, in thinking that starts with the market when designing strategies, rather than the other way around. Winning strategies will be viewed through a customer value lens and illuminated by deep market insights. Second, they will embrace the dual challenge of building a world-class marketing function that can anticipate and act on the driving forces of change.

The ability of marketing leaders to respond to these challenges will depend on their role within the organization. The possible roles for the head of the marketing functions can be grouped into four categories.

In the role of top-line leader, marketing has a central strategic guidance function that directs all customer-facing activities and is accountable for the brand strategy, driving the organic growth agenda, and positioning the business for the future. This emerging model of a CMO flourishes in companies with big global brands.

Market advocates are especially prevalent in sales-driven organizations. Like top-line leaders, these CMOs are advocates for the customer and are responsible for bringing longer-term market and brand-building considerations into C-suite deliberations. While their role may be broad, they are primarily coordinators and communicators.

Marketer as a service resource is the least influential CMO type. Such a CMO manages a group of marketing professionals that operates as a cost center, overseeing central marketing research and coordinating relationships with key marketing partners.

Finally, in the marketing as sales support model—particularly prevalent in smaller business-to-business companies that are reliant on intermediaries—many marketing activities have been folded into the sales group.

For an organization to succeed and win in the digital era by deploying the marketing resources both efficiently and effectively, its CMO must embrace the dual responsibilities of creative and accountable delivery. The marketing function exists to deliver increased enterprise value in the short, medium, and long terms. And it does so by optimizing the ability of marketing to generate top-line growth and reducing the cost of delivering that growth. CMOs need to adopt this mindset and create a marketing culture that fully embraces it. They need to serve as the role models for the desired values and behaviors, and embrace the core metrics and measurements—not avoid them. 

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