The CMO of the Future Has These 8 Skills

Blake Morgan
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Key Takeaways

What? CMOs need to be the Sherlock Holmes of the C-suite, keeping tabs on consumer behavior.

So what? Losing sight of customers for even a moment can spell trouble for an organization.

Now what? CMOs of the future should help steer company strategy, present a vision to the board and be a data and design genius.

​May 22, 2017

The CMO of the future needs to be more of a futurist than a CMO

There is no way we can see the future. It’s unknowable. We can look at trends and imagine what the future will hold, but we cannot know the exact future. For brands that manage risk while innovating, this is a scary proposition. Their survival depends on their ability to quickly pivot, to innovate in real time. How can companies stay relevant tomorrow, and what is the CMO's role in continuing that effort?

The Sherlock Holmes of the C-suite

In the future the CMO needs to be the Sherlock Holmes of the C-suite—an intuitive customer behavior genius, a sociologist of sorts. Lose sight of your customers for even one minute and you’re in trouble. 

CMOs need to be masters of sociographics, a sister to sociology. Sociographics is the area that helps you truly know customer behavior. It includes the characteristics that influence the way people perceive and receive your brand’s messages—they have a large impact on how your market behaves socially. 

Sociologythe study of human behaviorand sociographicsknowing your customer's attitudes, values, influences, hobbies and passionswill both be important to the future CMO. The CMO of the future is an even more important player in the C-suite. The CMO knows the customer best and leads the company into the future—a customer experience futurist predicting what customers want and need.

The Steward of Brand Perception

The CMO has a role in preparing the company for different scenarios that the future may bring. Customer experience, often owned by the CMO, will gain importance in a world where not much differentiates one product from another. The future of customer experience focuses more on the services wrapped around the product than the product itself. Those services impact the customer’s perception of your brand. 

Here’s what we know: Customer experience is the perception your customers have of your brand, and there is no other officer that plays a greater role in shaping that customer’s perception than the CMO. In the past we’ve seen brands make cuts to marketing or take away some of the CMO’s power and influence in times of uncertainty. But in uncertain times you need to keep your finger on the pulse of what your customers are doing, and the CMO is equipped to do that. The CMO should be just as important as other C-level officers.

The CMO can no longer operate with a VP of marketing mentality. The CMO needs to see themselves as a captain of the ship, responsible for the high-level steering. Today business lines blur increasingly quickly. A telecom provider is now an entertainment company (AT&T). A retailer is now a digital fitness brand (Under Armour). A movie rental company is now a content production company (Netflix). We're seeing mergers and acquisitions that shift entire industries overnight.

As the market shifts, so do our corporate leaders. The CMO needs to track trends in media, content and overall branding. The CMO needs to look at the landscape and point out opportunities for growth.

Below I've identified eight skills of the CMO of the future.  

1. Steering Company Strategy 

It’s no secret that customers are looking for products and services that will make their lives easier and better. We can see that customers are not loyal. For example, no die-hard taxi customers held on to the taxi industry when Uber surfaced. Rather, customers dumped the taxi industry overnight for the no-fuss customer experience of Uber. This is where the CMO steps in. The CMO's role is unique because the CMO knows the customer in a way no other officer does. And the person who knows the customer needs to shift the company strategy because profits follow companies that obsess over customer behavior. 

2. Presenting a Future Vision to the Board

The CMO has historically not been involved with the corporate board, however in the future the CMO will have a key role in persuading the board. The mercurial customer of the future will have an influence on the direction of the company. If a company leaves the CMO out of board-level conversations, the company is missing out on a big opportunity to really know what’s going on in the market. Marketing in the age of customer experience has catapulted the CMO to new levels of importance. It is important for the board to hear from the C-level executive that is most connected to the customer.

3. Data and Design Genius

Coca-Cola recently cut its CMO role, now promoting a chief growth officer that combines global marketing, customer and commercial leadership strategy. This is an example of how companies are trying to make something that is sometimes seen as unquantifiable more definitive or precise. As we increasingly look to our data to give us this information, CMOs will be held to new standards—the pressure is on to be a data aficionado.

When you ask CMOs what they do, many of them still talk about traditional advertising, but in the future the CMO needs to have a more strategic role within the executive suite and the board. The seemingly intangible metric of customer engagement will balloon in importance and it will be up to the CMO to define what that looks like.

4. Innovation and Transformation Leadership

The CMO is in charge of steering digital transformations. As an increasing number of customer experiences are assisted by technology, building that experience holds increasing importance. A company’s ability to transform digitally will determine its success.

Today the strongest brands are curating the brand and its content alongside its customers. The CMO is the most involved in customer strategy and increasingly owns all customer programs. It’s the CMO’s responsibility to know when and how to use new technologies.

5. Master of Personalization

It's hard for us to imagine personalization of tomorrow because customers today have so little of it. Today's personalization only amounts to ads you get from products you search for online. Customer service generally doesn't remember what you told them last time you contacted them. Tomorrow, personalization will be a staple of every competitive customer experience, and the CMO will be in charge of making that happen.

6. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

It's important for the CMO to understand emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the opportunities and challenges these technologies pose. The chatbot is an exciting new prospect for companies, but the jury is still out on how much customers will like and use these technologies. The CMO will play a role in figuring out how chatbots will supplement other customer engagement efforts. 

While we've been using the technology for years, the potential to actually build amazing customer experiences as a result of chatbots will be here soon. Chatbots—by way of machine learning—can better understand what customers are looking for, whether it's for education, service or sales. The CMO needs to understand these technologies more than anyone.

7. Content Curation Alongside Customers

Today's most cutting-edge brands understand that communication is more about engagement than a megaphone. Customers are talking to companies and they want to be heard. The challenge for brands is their ability to scale the listening process. The technologies we've mentioned above, namely machine learning, will help companies become better listeners.

Customers want to see themselves reflected in your brand. CMOs today need to take the process of co-created content with customers seriously. Co-created content can assist the CMO in curating content alongside its customers. In the future, brands will be actually be publishers.

8. Innovative Thought Process

Understanding how technology can accelerate growth and foster better innovation is important for any leader today, especially the CMO. The CMO must enable teams to work faster with technology and identify opportunities to do so, not just in marketing but across the organization. The CMO has now become the go-to person when it comes to transformation. The CMO holds the key to the customer’s heart and mind. Leaders must not only be able to see what’s coming around the corner, but anticipate customer needs. The future of customer experience is personalization and tailored interactions. The CMO needs to think like a CTO and build and drive powerful customer experiences.

These are the characteristics of the future CMO. Do you see a familiar role or a different role than the CMO you know today?

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Author Bio:
Blake Morgan
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, keynote speaker and the author of the book <a href="" target="_blank">More Is More</a>. Sign up for her weekly newsletter <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.
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