Too few CMOs are involved in digital transformation – Forrester

I came across a brand new study by Forrester, which I analyzed in detail on behalf of my client iRevolution on its digital transformation horror museum blog. This study sheds new light on the role of CMOs within the digital transformation endeavours of their organisations. Or lack thereof. As a matter of fact, Forrester has highlighted the lack of involvement of marketers in such projects. This an issue in the United States, and the rest of the World. As I wanted to know more, I have interviewed Thomas Husson on our premises, earlier this month.

Too few CMOs are involved in digital transformation efforts

An interview with Thomas Husson, senior analyst at Forrester

Your latest survey is entitled “CMOs: define your role in digital transformation“. All this doesn’t sound very good for CMOs, does it?

Well, maybe. At the end of the day, it really depends on the CMOs’ remit and what their role and responsibility are within an organisation and obviously, it varies quite dramatically from business to business.

Who are these CMOs you have interviewed?

We surveyed 1,700 marketers globally — mostly senior, 40 percent of which are CMOs — and we asked them about their challenges and priorities. We interviewed a mix of CMOs from large and small organizations, across the globe B2B and B2C, and there are differences obviously, different industries and companies of different sizes. We interviewed CMOs dedicated to customer experience, others own sales, some are members of the executive committee, some have fewer responsibilities…

“CMOs need to become conductors of customer experience. This is all about orchestration, creating meaning and purpose” – Thomas Husson – Forrester

At the end of the day what we found out is that too few CMOs are really involved in digital transformation. This is a real challenge for them and it’s time that they redefine their role to be more proactive in the digital transformation of their organisations.

How can we sum up this study in a nutshell?

CMOs are facing a couple of challenges. One of them is that they have the lowest tenure among the C-suite. If you look at the stats from Spencer Stuart or Korn Ferry, we’re talking of an average of four years.

But if you look at the median tenure it’s actually two and a half years, less than CIOs and CFOs. So, you don’t have a lot of time to deal with the short term and check the ROI of your campaigns and at the same time be involved in the medium to long term transformation.

Other roles emerge within the C-Suite such as CDOs (Chief Digital Officers) or CCOs (Chief Client Officers or Chief Customer Officers) and at the end of the day, this is always the same story: it’s about how you deliver the brand experience and brand promise.

On the contrary, CEOs and the IT teams are on the contrary quite involved and the problem is that transformation is therefore seen through the prism of technology. Thus, data lakes are created even before thinking about what kind of data you need and how you’re going to act on it to personalise your customer experience.

A majority of CMOs are also struggling with some of the new skills required for digital transformation efforts: technology skills, data skills and how to really become the voice of the customer and share this at the executive level to make sure that the organisation takes into account such customer expectations.

How come can the customer experience be taken off the hands of CMOs when it is or should be so central to their role?

There has been historically a focus on marketing and advertising and a noted challenge is that of the execution of the brand experience across organisational silos.

Some CMOs are obviously working on this and orchestrate this across the organisation and they aim to bridge the gap between teams, working closely with technology partners and partner agencies to execute this vision.

Yet, a significant percentage of these CMOs do not necessarily own this notion of customer experience and do not necessarily have the resources to execute this vision. So, it’s both a challenge from a vision and execution standpoints. And that’s where we are going to see the differences between the leaders and the laggards.

Does it mean that we run the risk of seeing more of these digital transformation endeavours getting away from customer experience and moving into a more IT-driven bias?

I think that’s what we’ve seen so far for many organisations and it’s starting to evolve.

We’re are now seeing businesses and marketers stating that transformation definitely isn’t about technology and has more to do with the way you deliver your brand promise.

So, it’s about empowering employees to get their jobs done and to understand how they contribute to the overall customer experience.

This notion of employer branding is getting even more important. CMOs and CIOs, together with the Chief People Officer and Human Resources are increasingly involved in creating an environment where employees feel they can contribute to the customer experience while understanding the brand values.

And here the CMO has a role to play too. If you attract the best digital talents, you want to make sure that designers, developers and all the digital profiles you need, stay within the company. To that end, you had better create favourable environments, career paths and ecosystems.

Are they any discrepancies between the different regions within your sample

There are indeed discrepancies both at region and country level and also within some industries. By and large, the US is still more advanced, while some countries in Europe are lagging.

For instance, there is a 10 point difference between the global average and France when it comes to CMOs putting customer experience as a top priority.

Hence, more often than not customer experience is perceived as something around the user interface, but it’s not necessarily perceived as a business discipline that requires new competencies across the organisation.

And then there are lots of differences between B2B and B2C as well, where many B2B marketers’ remits are too focused on lead generation and supporting sales, and not enough about the broader definition of what the brand stands for and how you can operate this across channels.

Moving forward, what do you think CMOs should do to get back into the game and play a role in digital transformation?

I think it’s about clarifying their role upfront before accepting the job and understanding the tools they will be given to act on this. It’s about creating Uber inteams with different skill sets and increasingly focusing on what marketing is all about. That is to say, the strategy, the creativity and ability to execute a superior customer experience.

I would add that some of the KPIs should change too. Mostly when it comes to mobile, which is now the hub of the customer relationship and not a marketing sub-channel. It plays also a key role in driving people to stores and to generate incremental sales.

Traditional digital KPIs like clicks and views and active users aren’t therefore sufficient. One should focus on those new channels and serve marketing objectives and measure the right things instead. At the end of the day, there is no more frontier between offline and online.

Will CMOs disappear and be replaced by other roles?

It’s true that CMOs will need to be a little more specialised than they used to. To really define the mission of the brand one needs to work across the organisation. CMOs need to become conductors of customer experience. This is all about orchestration, creating meaning and purpose.

Yet, CMOs are here to stay. We’ll even see many of the new roles that have popped up in the past two to three years (and namely CDOs) disappear.

Read Forrester’s report CMOs: Define Your Role In Digital Transformation  

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Yann Gourvennec

CEO & Founder at Visionary Marketing
Yann has a long-standing experience in marketing, information systems and Web marketing. He created visionarymarketing.com in 1996 and since then, he has practiced Web strategy, e-business and Web communications in the field. He was a member of socialmedia.org from 2008 till 2013. He is a lecturer, a keynote speaker, an author and blogger. In early 2014, he went from intrapreneur to entrepreneur when he founded his digital marketing agency Visionary Marketing.
Yann Gourvennec
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