Editor’s Note: The marketer of the future is already here

The "CMO 3.0" is taking on more responsibilities as they lead transformational change for their brands.

Jennifer Horn_headshot

This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of strategy

Prior to coronavirus hitting the fan, news media, pundits, and the like had begun to question the role of the CMO. At one point companies were putting their chief marketer positions on the chopping block. In 2019, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s and Uber scrapped plans to replace outgoing global CMOs.

For these companies, it was that martech had taken precedence and the role needed to be filled by a chief information officer, or that duties had grown exponentially (again, thanks to martech) and was just simply too much for one person to manage on their own.

But with every report that once threatened the extinction of the role, there was a marketer helping to lead transformational change on the digital front. And that includes the brand leaders from our 2021 group of Marketers of the Year, many of whom are behind new digital and data systems at their organizations, from Sobeys to Arterra and Canadian Tire. While they’re busy proving that chief marketers are worth their weight in gold by upskilling and leading digital strategies, the next phase of their role is already underway.

CMOs, in their first life, were the purveyors of products and services, tapping into our human emotions to influence decisions. With the next rendition, came the aforementioned need to go beyond managing a marketing strategy to using data to make sense of personalization at scale. The next juncture is creating conditions for the CMO 3.0, a transformational stage – set further alight by the pandemic – where brand leaders are an equal part of marketing as they are sustainable business growth.

Back when the corona-crisis started, we heard accounts of marketers helping their businesses give birth to survival strategies that gave them a better chance of making it out on the other side. One that comes to mind is Earl’s Kristin Vekteris, who told strategy that she and three other heads in the restaurant’s operations, culinary and procurement departments (dubbed the “innovation team”) developed a revenue stream that saw the company enter a whole new territory. Earl’s Grocery was born out of its own supply chain problem – selling excess food from lockdowns to shoppers navigating empty store shelves – and the marketing head was at the root of its birth.

The last two years were arguably a catalyst for marketing being given a more influential seat at the executive table. But evolutions are a slow and constant process. And 2021 Marketer of the Year Catherine Roche at BMO is an example of how marketers have been morphing into change leaders for some time. Roche was one of the key architects in finding and communicating the bank’s reason for being. She led a full company and market investigation into the future direction of the brand, and was given reins to set a new purpose-led strategy that influences how the bank does business from here on out.

One thing those earlier reports got right is that, indeed, marketers’ remits are growing fast and vast. But judging from this year’s MOYs, they’ve long been preparing for the challenge.

Jennifer Horn is the content director and editor for strategy