Lessons learned from the MMA CEO & CMO Summit

There has been much discussion regarding the evolution of the CMO role over the past few decades. I find myself wanting to understand more in an effort to become a valued, trusted advisor and business partner to any CMO I work with. 

However, I increasingly find myself realizing that there is no single definition for this position.

Every organization views its CMO’s purview quite differently. Many will have a much broader definition of what the marketing function entails. And some will find that having one CMO in one organization may require three executives in another, including but not limited to a CTO, CFO, or chief growth officer (CGO).

The reality is there is no one-CMO-fits-all company/brand. For me, this translates to our agency side of the house by making sure we’re not organized the same way for every client, every type of business, and every assignment.

The modern CMO(s)

I attended this year’s MMA CEO & CMO Summit in California in July. It was great to see so many people back in the swing of things in a safe and in-person format, as well as such a wide array of executive attendees. 

The event featured executives from across a broad range of brands, including AT&T, Reckitt, General Motors, HP, Peloton, Impossible Foods, and more. 

Given the conference’s theme, “Redefining the CMO’s Role in Driving Growth,” the boundaries of this job, or lack thereof, were top of mind. 

What was interesting to hear firsthand and with more depth was the inconsistencies attached to this role. For instance, some CMOs made it their responsibility to focus on product distribution, production support, and even product development, while others were strictly focused on more traditional marketing tasks with teams supporting the other functions. 

This was critical to understand, given the CMO role is directly tied to revenue goals, profitability, and even the impact on the supply chain. The lines between responsibilities blur even further, as many discussed the inherent connectivity between branding and performance and the continued convergence across the industry, which has created a world where all forms of advertising have expected and intrinsic requirements of accountability. 

This notion was echoed throughout the event during sessions with Andrea Brimmer, CMO and public relations officer at Ally Financial. 

Andrea described the growing need to measure the unmeasurable. 

It was also great to hear Amardeep Kahlon, GM of US Nutrition at Reckitt, speaking about the critical impact that outcome-based marketing has had on business in one session, as well as the role that creativity plays in a brand’s growth in another panel with the CMOs of General Motors and E*TRADE.

Speaking of other new areas where measurement hasn’t quite caught up, Web3 and the related NFT and metaverse were compelling topics. Analyst Shelly Palmer argued that while these technologies may not fit neatly into buckets where CMOs have typically worked, our job as marketing leaders should be to help define how they fit into and enhance the marketer’s toolbox. Case in point, Linda Lee, CMO of Campbell Soup Company, showcased how the company used NFTs to help relaunch its 150-year-old brand. 

To some, this might seem to be exactly the kind of work a CMO aspires to do — or to others, it belongs in the hands of a chief digital officer (CDO). 

Of course, with how the CMO’s responsibilities are evolving, you might think that CDOs could soon outlive their usefulness. 

But based on discussions at the event, leaders from Nike, General Motors, and other companies extolled the value of having in the C-suite such dedicated subject matter experts in new technologies and the evolution of their roles as well. 

Each company treated the CDO role quite differently; at General Motors, the team seemed to focus on the in-vehicle experience and technology along with marketing, while the Nike CDO focused on experimenting with making customer purchases more immersive.

The right marketing org chart for the job(s)

Given how unique the CMO of the future will likely be, one of the big questions coming out of the conference for me was:

Are most brands and their partners structured to take advantage of the varied roles and skills and address the business challenges that come along with it? 

At this point, we’re on a journey to better understand what our partners need and reshape our organizations to better align with the kinds of tasks our client leaders are most focused on while also recognizing the need for flexibility as their roles evolve. 

Another interesting session at the MMA Conference featured Dr. Neil Morgan of the Kelley School of Business and Rebecca Messina of McKinsey, who spoke about how critical it is for marketing organizations to get their capabilities in alignment — and why a lack of clear roles and responsibilities can cripple an organization.

Beyond structure, agencies, media partners, and other marketing partners will need to continue asking clients to provide greater clarity on requests. 

Getting the full picture of why a client is pushing for a specific assignment has never been easy, but it’s increasingly crucial for success. 

Thankfully, the more our companies embrace change and building for purpose, the more in sync we’re likely to be with our CMO partners — regardless of what that title means at any given moment.