Marketing chiefs face a 'final desperate fight for survival' in 2020, says report

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Large corporates including McDonald’s, Uber and Johnson & Johnson no longer have chief marketing officers (CMOs) and the role risks becoming outdated next year, according to a new report.

The digital age has meant that consumers have more ways of experiencing a company than ever: from the ads they see on their Instagram feed to sending a message to a customer service team via Twitter. This puts more pressure on marketers, who may have previously only controlled the advertising and communications side of things. Now into the job mix comes a greater demand for real-time feedback on how well, and how often, a firm is communicating with customers.

The emergence of digital technology has meant a “painful transition” for CMOs, from long-term brand builders to operators who are focused on quarterly results and data, according to the “Predictions 2020” report from analyst Forrester. The report does not see the role being eliminated but stated: “We do see a stage set for a desperate fight for survival.”

Now more than ever, CMOs have to be in charge of how their brand is perceived everywhere. “The reality is that most CMOs haven’t effectively navigated this transition,” the report’s authors state. “Those who succeed will do so by being accountable for it all — the brand, communications, sales enablement, CX (customer experience) and technology selection.”

The KFC Cheetos Sandwich was a limited-edition menu item in the U.S. in summer 2019.

Noam Galai | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

For example, KFC’s CMO Andrea Zahumensky is in charge of innovation, marketing, operations, media and sales at the company, and has moved the innovation and marketing teams closer together to speed up new product creation, such as the limited edition KFC x Cheetos sandwich that launched in New York in July. “Aligning food innovation and marketing with operations allows ideas to come to life quickly and be delivered to customers with strategic agility,” Forrester’s report stated.

Having a marketing department can make marketing activities feel separate, the report suggested, whereas direct-to-consumer businesses like beauty subscription company Birchbox try to consider the role of brand and marketing in all of its teams. The company promoted its CMO Amanda Tolleson to chief customer officer in 2018, with responsibility for digital engineering and customer experience as well as marketing.

“Counterintuitively, eliminating the CMO position sets the brand free from the confines of marketing, reuniting it with the business,” the report stated.

A separate report from U.S. organization the CMO Council also noted a shift in attitude towards marketing. “Major companies in fast-moving consumer goods brands, including Coca-Cola, Kimberly-Clark, and Mars, Incorporated, have newly minted CGOs (chief growth officers) while eliminating the chief marketing officer (CMO) title —suggesting a fundamental shift in thinking, and, potentially, a downgrading of marketing’s stature in the board room,” its report stated earlier this month.

CMO Council research suggested that 70% of marketers say their companies expect marketing to be the primary source of business growth, but some survey respondents indicated they weren’t as involved as they should be in sources of growth such as new product development.

What partly stops businesses from innovating and growing is “management ego,” the CMO Council’s report suggested, quoting Shari Matras, chief growth officer of Chicago-based household goods company Jelmar. “Big CPG (consumer packaged goods) knows where the big opportunities are. They have all the research. New people come in and throw out great ideas and initiatives because it wasn’t their idea. Senior leadership has to be able to get out of the way and let the people who have the data and are close to the consumer get the job done.”

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